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Joe Ross focused on improvement, not spot in Nationals’ rotation...

Joe Ross tries to get it back together again as he takes on the Orioles tonight in Nationals Park.

Seattle Mariners v Washington Nationals Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images

Dusty Baker said Joe Ross was fighting himself when as he gave up seven hits (two of them home runs), two walks, and seven runs (six earned) in just three innings of work on the mound against the Oakland A’s last time out.

Ross threw 82 pitches in three innings, with a four-run, 32-pitch first inning getting the recently-turned 24-year-old right-hander off to a rough start.

“It just seemed like Joe was fighting Joe,” Baker said. “He wanted it so bad, and then in-between innings he was upset about the last inning.”

“Maybe fighting myself a little bit, just trying to be a little bit too fine,” Ross admitted.

Asked if it was the same mechanical issues Ross struggled with before he was sent to Triple-A earlier this season, Baker stressed that he had not said anything about Ross’s arm slot or velocity dropping, and didn’t think the problem was necessarily mechanical.

“He was fighting Joe,” the Nats’ skipper reiterated.

“When you’re fighting yourself that’s more psychological than it is physical, you know what I mean.”

Ross said he felt fine even if he didn’t get the results he was after against the A’s.

“I felt alright,” he said. “I felt like did a better job of pitching inside than I did the last game.

“That was one of my main focuses going into the start today, I just didn’t execute a few pitches. Another two-strike slider to a lefty turned into a home run, so I just didn’t really capitalize on a couple at bats where I was in the driver’s seat, I guess I could say, but you know, just got to make adjustment to keep the ball down, especially on a day game like this.”

His manager was asked if there was a fix, or how they would go about getting Ross back to being the pitcher he was when he first came up, before his shoulder injury, before the mechanical concerns, and before he started to struggle.

“You just got to go back to concentration, confidence and relaxation,” Baker said.

“Because a relaxed pitcher doesn’t fight himself. When you’re really — when you’re kind of uptight, then you have a tendency to fight yourself.”

Baker announced earlier this week that Ross would in fact start tonight’s game, and he told reporters, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman, that he just wanted Ross to stay focused on what’s important on the mound and forget about anything else that could be a distraction.

“Don’t pay attention to the radar gun. Don’t pay attention to the arm slot. Cause you can’t pay attention to all that and pitch at the same time. You pay attention to that during your bullpen sessions and throwing on the side.

When the game starts, you’ve got to junk it, so to speak. But at the same time, you’ve got to use your brain on what to do and when to use it.”

Will the Nationals stick with Ross if he continues to struggle?

He’ll take the mound tonight with a 7.34 ERA, 5.67 FIP, seven walks (2.05 BB/9), 29 Ks (8.51 K/9), nine home runs allowed (2.64 HR/9), and a .328/.367/.606 line against in 30 23 innings pitched this season.

With his struggles, and his lack of an effective third pitch, there has been talk that the right-hander could be better suited for a relief role pretty much since he came up.

Add Ross to the mix along with a healthy Joe Blanton (who is starting a rehab stint), lefty Sammy Solis, if/when he returns, and hard-throwing top pitching prospect Erick Fedde, if he takes to relieving, and the Nationals could have some of the solutions to their bullpen issues in-house, though that shouldn’t stop them from pursuing help as the trade deadline approaches.

GM Mike Rizzo told reporters last month that he didn’t see moving Ross to the bullpen as an option.

“We think he’s too valuable as a starter — his stuff is too good,” Rizzo explained. He’s a proven starter and starting pitching is extremely important for our organization and everybody else, so we consider him a starter."

If he continues to struggle, will the Nationals send him back down to Triple-A to sort things out, or will he end up in the bullpen, channeling everything into one inning or working things out in long relief?

Ross said he didn’t feel like he was pitching for his spot each time out, because that wouldn’t work.

“I’m pitching to go out and win a game. Can’t worry about things like that during a game, just hurt myself if I do that.”

The home-run happy Baltimore Orioles might not be the best opponent for Ross as he tries to short things out, but he needs another solid start like his first outing back off the disabled list to quiet some of the chatter about what the future holds.