Joe Ross’s initial return from Tommy John surgery was wiped out by rain five outs in, but he finally made it all the way back from the torn UCL in his elbow last Thursday, when he faced the Chicago Cubs in the nation’s capital.
Ross, a year-plus removed from having his elbow repaired, went five innings, giving up four hits, two walks, and two earned runs, receiving no decision in what ended up a 5-4 loss to the Cubs.
Though he wasn’t happy that he fell behind in the count often in the outing, Ross said he was glad he was finally able to officially get back on the mound in the majors.
“My slider kind of needed some work today,” Ross told reporters, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.
“It was kind of flat and leaving it up a little bit. But for the most part, I felt pretty good.
“Fastball, especially sinker, was getting good movements on some, especially the ones down in the zone.”
Start No. 2 for the right-hander was an outing against the New York Mets in the nation’s capital.
It began with a line drive double to center by Amed Rosario, who hit a first-pitch fastball out to center that Victor Robles misjudged. Rosario scored on Jay Bruce’s two-out, RBI single to make it 1-0 New York after one.
Bruce got to the Nats’ starter again in the third, hitting the second of back-to-back doubles to drive Michael Conforto in after the Nationals rallied to tie it at 1-1 in the home-half of the second, and the Mets added two more runs on an RBI single by Dominic Smith and an RBI double by Devin Mesoraco, 4-1.
Ross retired nine of the next 11 batters he faced, working around a two-out walk in the fifth and a one-out single in the sixth.
He was up to 95 pitches total after the top of the sixth, so the Nationals went to the pen for the seventh.
Joe Ross’s Line: 6.0 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 3 Ks, 95 P, 65 S, 9/3 GO/FO.
Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez talked after what ended up a 4-2 loss about how Ross was able to settle down and turn things around over his last few innings on the mound.
“He got the ball down, that was the biggest difference,” Martinez said.
“I had a good conversation with [catcher] Spencer [Kieboom] and him about getting the ball down. He’s more effective when he’s down, the ball moves a little bit more, his changeup is better, his slider’s better, and he was able to do that and really settled down and pitched well.”
Asked if getting the ball down was a mechanical or approach thing, Martinez said it was likely a matter of Ross focusing on his own strengths as opposed to trying to pitch to or around the hitters’ strengths.
“Sometimes we get caught up in how to pitch certain guys because of their strengths,” he explained. “I think that some of our guys need to know what their strengths are, and pitch to your strengths, and [Ross] is who he is, which is a guy that throws sinkers and has good changeup, good slider, and he’s more effective pitching down.”
“If I can do a better job of getting two-seam [fastballs] down and getting ground balls,” Ross said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman after the game “... then hopefully I’ll have more success the next time.”
Overall though, Martinez said he was impressed with Ross’s outing.
“This guy just came back from Tommy John surgery, and today we got him up to 95 pitches, that’s pretty encouraging, and he went out there and he learned and he picked it up right away, and as I said, when he got the ball down he was very, very effective, and that’s who he is, so hopefully his next outing, he understands who he is and what he needs to do and we can move forward.”
“Joe has been great,” Bryce Harper added when asked for his thoughts on Ross.
“Coming back off of TJ, I was so happy for him and proud of him to be able to come back this year and do what he’s doing. It’s a huge step. Tommy John is a big surgery to go through and taking off a year to go through that and coming back and being able to show what he has, very excited and very bright future ahead of him and excited to see where he goes.”