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Will Washington Nationals’ starter Joe Ross contribute to the cause in 2018 after undergoing Tommy John surgery last summer...

Washington Nationals’ right-hander Joe Ross ended up having to have Tommy John surgery last summer. Will he return to the Nats’ rotation at all in 2018?

New York Mets v Washington Nationals Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Washington Nationals’ right-hander Joe Ross was lifted from a July 9th start this past summer with what was described at the time as “triceps tenderness.”

Ross had a noticeable drop in velocity in the start, which the Nationals’ now-former manager acknowledged after the abbreviated outing.

“We saw his velocity was like 89-88,” Dusty Baker told reporters after the game that afternoon, “and then [Pitching Coach] Mike [Maddux] saw something and we decided to take Joe out.

“He has some [triceps] tenderness and he’s in taking an MRI right now so we don’t know the results yet.”

A few days later, Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo announced that the 24-year-old right-hander was going to have a follow-up MRI arthrogram.

“We’re giving him an MRI arthrogram, we’re going to have it read and we’ll take the next step and make a diagnosis and take it from there once we find out,” Rizzo explained, adding that Ross had never dealt with elbow issues before then.

“Just normal elbow soreness that he’s had,” Rizzo said, “that most pitchers have, but he’s never had elbow surgery, no.”

New York Mets v Washington Nationals Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

A few days after that, the sinker-balling right-hander was diagnosed with a full thickness tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.

“We knew with the MRI that it was going to be serious,” Rizzo told reporters, as quoted by The Washington Post’s Jorge Castillo, after the Nationals received the results of the second test.

“We just didn’t know to what degree. The arthrogram made it very clear on what happened to it.”

Ross, who’d dealt with shoulder issues during the 2016 campaign and struggled with his arm slot and mechanics before the injury last summer, was (5-3) with a 5.01 ERA, 4.98 FIP, 20 walks (2.44 BB/9), 68 Ks (8.31 K/9), and 16 home runs allowed in 73 2⁄3 IP in 2017, after he’d given up 16 homers total over 181 23 IP in his first two major league seasons.

The velocity on his sinker, which sat between 93-94 in 2015-16, was down to an average of 91.5 MPH overall in 2017.

With a 12-16 month window for recovery after Tommy John surgery, how much, if at all, Ross will be able to contribute to the Nationals rotation in 2018 is unclear, considering that he underwent surgery in mid-July.

Baker, who was relieved of his duties as the Nationals’ manager after the fourth NLDS loss in the organization’s fourth trip to the postseason in the last six seasons, told reporters in July that he hoped the right-hander would come back stronger than before following the surgery.

“Most of the guys I know come back better and throwing harder than when they left because they get rid of everything while they’re in there,” Baker said.

“Anyone who has done any kind of pitching for any amount of time, they usually have something in there. I’m just hoping that Joe comes back stronger and better than ever.”

Will Ross return to contribute at all in 2018? He’ll likely be on an innings limit if/when he does get back on the mound in the majors, though the Nats, having learned their lesson, will likely not share the details of their plan for the right-hander when he is able to return.