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How will the Washington Nationals handle Joe Ross in 2019?

Joe Ross will be in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery in 2019, so how will the Washington Nationals handle Ross’s innings next summer?

MLB: Washington Nationals at Colorado Rockies Russell Lansford-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Ross made six starts across a few levels in the Washington Nationals’ organization as he worked his way back from Tommy John surgery, posting a 2.39 ERA in 26 13 innings pitched before he was called up in September for his first major league outings since July of 2017.

Ross was (0-2) in three starts in the Nationals’ rotation, with a 5.06 ERA, 5.85 FIP, four walks, and seven Ks in 16 innings, but the fact that he was able to come all the way back was more important than the results, at least as far as Washington’s GM Mike Rizzo was concerned.

“I look past the performance and look at the stuff,” Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies during the final week of the regular season, “... and how he’s progressed in his rehabilitation, and he’s 92-to-96 with his sinker, his slider has got some snap to it at 86-88, and he’s really developed a changeup that we think is going to be a weapon in the future.”

“I’ve got a lot of things to work on,” Ross said after his third and final start, a five-inning, 81-pitch outing in Coors Field, “but I’d say the biggest thing is just being healthy, feeling good, at least being on the mound is the biggest thing for me, but I’ve got a lot of stuff to work on.

“Work on the slider, obviously it hasn’t really been there for me, command and everything, just honestly getting the stamina up so I can go deeper into the game, but I mean for now just happy that I feel healthy and feel strong, but I’ve kind of just got to take it one step at a time.”

“Obviously he’s got to get the ball down,” Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez said. “He’s got to be more consistent and get ahead of hitters. His slider, so far, has come and gone, and he’s got a really good one. When he’s on his slider is really good. He threw a couple today that were really good, and he’s just got to get that back and be consistent with it.”

“I think he looks great,” shortstop Trea Turner said after playing behind Ross in Colorado.

“Tonight, tough ballpark to pitch in, but for the most part I feel like he’s shown flashes of really good Joe. I think the velocity is obviously back too, which is nice.

“Before he got hurt I think he was down quite a bit, and just to see him strong and healthy and comfortable I think is a great thing.”

Ross was asked after his last outing if it will be a relief to go through a normal offseason after he spent the last winter rehabbing so he could make it back late this season.

“I mean I still wouldn’t say it’s normal,” Ross explained, “probably won’t take much time off, but I mean to not be able to throw is a big difference than it was last year, but you know, I’ve still got to get after some things and set some goals for myself going into Spring Training.”

Having Ross back in the rotation should help the Nationals, for whom starting pitching was an issue this year, with Stephen Strasburg and Jeremy Hellickson both missing time on the Disabled List, while both Tanner Roark and Gio Gonzalez struggled through up and down 2018 campaigns, but they are going to have to supplement the starting options with both Gonzalez and Hellickson headed for free agency, and the organizational depth in terms of major league-ready arms a concern.

Adding Ross back into the mix gives them one option, but as Rizzo explained to the Sports Junkies, he’s going to be limited somewhat in his first full season back from Tommy John.

“We’re going to have to control his innings,” Rizzo said.

“He’ll be in Year 1 post Tommy John protocol as we have here with the Nationals, but we’re looking for big things from Joe and hopefully we can manage those innings correctly and he can really be a factor for us.”

Ross will help, but the Nationals are going to need to add to the rotation and their starting depth this winter if they want to avoid some of the same issues they dealt with this season.