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Washington Nationals - Top 5 ?s for 2019: What do Nats have in Joe Ross?

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Will Joe Ross return from Tommy John and claim the fifth spot in the Nationals’ rotation? Or will Erick Fedde or a veteran arm take the final spot behind Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, and Aníbal Sánchez?

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

Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies in September that Joe Ross’s innings would have to be managed to some extent in 2019, after the 25-year-old righty returned from Tommy John surgery to make nine starts total between the minors and majors late in 2018, three of them in Washington’s rotation.

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

“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 is expected to compete for the fifth spot in the Nats’ rotation, behind Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin, Stephen Strasburg, and Aníbal Sánchez. Erick Fedde is in the mix, and an addition of another starter (and some depth) before the start of Spring Training will likely add some competition at the back end.

Ross, however much he’ll be able to offer, is a big part of the plan from what the Nationals have said this winter.

“He’s going to come to Spring Training with a chance to be a starting pitcher for us,” Rizzo told reporters at the Winter Meetings in early December, “and hopefully he fully recovers from the Tommy John, and we expect him to, and we liked what we saw in stretches last year, and just continue his improvement with his health and his stamina and that type of thing, and this guy was a pretty dynamic starter when we first got him and hopefully he gets back to pre-Tommy John status as a pitcher and we’ll be happy with that.”

Ross put up a 5.06 ERA, a 5.86 FIP, 2.25 BB/9, 3.94 K/9, and a .274/.338/.532 line against in 16 innings in the majors in his three 2018 starts, leaving him with a 4.01 ERA, 4.02 FIP, 2.45 BB/9, 7.86 K/9 and a .260/.319/.427 line against in 268 13 IP for the Nationals thus far in his big league career.

Major league hitters now have a .320 AVG against Ross’s sinker thus far in his MLB career, a .350 AVG on his changeup, .333 AVG on his four-seam fastball, .400 AVG on his curve, and a .173 AVG on his slider.

“I’ve got a lot of stuff to work on,” Ross said after his final start of the season. “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.”

“For me, obviously he’s got to get the ball down,” Davey Martinez said when asked what Ross needed to work on going forward following his last outing.

“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.”

“He had a good showing,” Nationals’ pitching coach Derek Lilliquist said at Winterfest in D.C. in early December.

“Obviously, we know that his two-seamer and his changeup are very good. His breaking ball still needs work, but a good dose of Spring Training and I think he’s going to be in the mix for doing good things.”

“Our expectations are that he gets back to pre-Tommy John form,” Rizzo added when he spoke about Ross at the Winter Meetings. “And that was a pretty good starting pitcher, so that’s what we’re hoping for and our expectation is that he’s going to battle for a rotation spot, take it and win the job and be the Joe Ross we saw pre-injury.”

Will the Nationals trust that Ross and Fedde can effectively fill out the back of the rotation, or will Rizzo and Co. in the front office sign another reliable starter?

Given a choice behind the plate this winter, the Nationals decided to add two catchers to take over catching duties. Rather than trust either Spencer Kieboom or Pedro Severino (or Raudy Read) to back up Kurt Suzuki, who signed first, the Nats acquired Yan Gomes in a 3-for-1 deal with the Cleveland Indians.

Will they make a similar decision with the fifth spot in the rotation, adding a new arm or two to the mix to battle Ross and Fedde for the final spot?