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Dusty Baker on Nationals’ Joe Ross; growing confidence in changeup; solid start vs Mets...

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“How many people pick up a pitch in the middle of the season and have the confidence enough to throw it?” - Dusty Baker on Joe Ross

MLB: New York Mets at Washington Nationals Patrick McDermott-USA TODAY Sports

In his last five starts before this morning’s against the New York Mets, Joe Ross, who’s had an up-and-down campaign thus far, had allowed two earned runs or less in four of his outings.

Over that stretch, the recently-turned 24-year-old sinker-balling right-hander put up a 3.03 ERA, eight walks (2.20 BB/9), 40 Ks (11.02 K/9) and a .266/.316/.435 line against in 32 23 innings pitched.

“I’ve found a little bit of a groove I guess,” Ross told reporters after he went 6 23 vs the Chicago Cubs last week, giving up five hits and two earned runs.

“Just feeling good the last couple starts... and just trying to build off each one,” Ross said.

“I feel like every game I have a couple mistake pitches to try to keep in mind going into the next game, because it seems like the same situation will come up and just kind of execute the next pitch.”

One of his strong starts during the recent five-start stretch, was against the same Mets he was facing today.

Ross took a loss during the Nats’ visit to Citi Field on June 18th, giving up nine hits and four runs, two earned, in 6 23 IP on the mound against the Nationals’ NL East rivals.

That was his second start of the 2017 season against New York, after he gave up seven hits and five earned runs in four innings, throwing 76 pitches in the outing against the Mets back on April 30th that made the Nationals decide he needed to return to Triple-A Syracuse to straighten things out.

MLB: New York Mets at Washington Nationals Patrick McDermott-USA TODAY Sports

This morning’s outing didn’t start well. Ross gave up a leadoff home run on a hanging 0-2 slider to Jose Reyes that the shortstop hit out right to put the Mets up early, 1-0.

Ross kept the Mets off the board through the next two, stranding two runners in both the second and third innings, and the Nats rallied to take a 2-1 lead in the home-half of the third, but a first-pitch slider to catcher Rene Rivera ended up in the right-center seats and it was tied up at 2-2 one pitch into the fourth.

Ross got through the fifth and sixth on just 22 pitches, however, with a seven-pitch frame in the sixth, after the Nationals jumped ahead, 6-2, extending his outing and allowing him to come back out for the seventh.

An 18-pitch seventh inning ended with a diving 3-2 change to Lucas Duda that got the Mets’ slugger swinging for Ross’s sixth K of the game.

Joe Ross’s Line: 7.0 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 6 Ks, 2 HRs, 114 P, 77 S, 4/5 GO/FO.

Ross threw 22 changeups total against the Mets, 16 for strikes, got 15 swings, two swinging strikes, and threw seven for strikes not put in play.

He got eight swings and misses with the slider, and threw 22 for strikes not put in play.

Dusty Baker said he was particularly impressed with Ross’s ability to work the change in.

“How many people pick up a pitch in the middle of the season and have the confidence enough to throw it?” Baker asked rhetorically.

“Most of the time that confidence comes over the winter and into Spring Training and the fact that this was the most pitches I think that he’s thrown since I’ve been here — career high — and we’ve still got to watch him, but that shows you — I told you he changed his training regiment and usually when you get tired you start getting the ball up, and he threw some quality changeups. We were hoping he could get through the seventh, that was his last hitter in Duda, and so he just has to work on his hitting some more. I think he had the golden sombrero today, or the hat trick.”

Ross did go 0 for 4 with four Ks at the plate, with the last strikeout when Baker left him in to hit in the seventh before going to the bullpen in the top of the eighth.

He also had a lot of runners on with the eight hits and three walks, but managed to limit the Mets to the two runs on the home runs.

“He did have a lot of baserunners,” Baker said, “but he made the pitches when he had to make them.

“He got the strikeouts when he had to strike them out and the guys played good defense behind him and that’s what happens when you’re throwing strikes.

“Guys are alert and aware and ready to catch the ball. He threw a very good game.”

Ross has now allowed 2 ER or less in five of his last six starts, with a 2.95 ERA in 39 2/3 IP over that stretch.