The Joe-Ross-as-a-reliever experiment resulted in an 11.05 ERA, a 6.90 FIP, and a rough .338/.449/.585 line against in 14 2⁄3 innings for Ross out of the Washington Nationals’ bullpen earlier this season.
So the Nats sent the 26-year-old right-hander down to the minors to stretch him back out in case he was needed in the rotation at some point.
“We’re not giving up on Joe, that’s for sure,” Manager Davey Martinez told reporters, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman, in late May.
“Joe, like we’ve told him before, he’s the future. Out of necessity, we’ve used him in the bullpen. I still believe that somewhere down the road, he’ll get an opportunity to start again.”
In eight outings as a starter at Triple-A Fresno in the notoriously hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League this season, Ross had a 4.20 ERA, eight walks, 32 Ks, and a .310 BAA in 40 IP before he was called back up on Sunday, when neither Max Scherzer and Austin Voth were able to take the mound in the series finale in Atlanta.
Ross struggled to throw strikes early (35 pitches, 18 strikes in the first), giving up three hits, a walk, and two earned runs in the bottom of the opening inning, but he settled in, and got through five innings on a total of 88 pitches with just the two early runs allowed.
Ross’s spot in the order came up in the top of the sixth, and he hit for himself, then he came back out for the sixth and surrendered a no-doubter of a solo home run to left-center on a 1-0 slider inside to Josh Donaldson, 3-0.
A one-out single in the sixth, on his 98th pitch, ended the outing for the Nats’ starter, who took the loss, which was the first by a member of the rotation in 28 games, going back to June 15th.
Joe Ross’s Line: 5.1 IP, 8 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 6 Ks, 1 HR, 98 P, 56 S, 3/4 GO/FO.
“He looked good,” the Nationals’ manager said after what ended up a 7-1 loss. “He kept us in the game for five-plus innings.”
Ross generated 15 swinging strikes, nine with his slider, and got 15 called strikes, eight with the slider.
Martinez said the righty was a “little amped up” early when he struggled with his command, but Ross settled in after that, which the pitcher acknowledged was the case.
“The first couple batters of the game, I went 3-2 or three-ball counts,” Ross said, as quoted by MASN’s Zuckerman after the game. “So avoiding those areas makes it easier on myself.”
“I felt good the whole game. The first inning just kind of got out of hand a little bit.”
The decision to send him back out for the sixth, his manager said, had to do with what he’d seen from Ross and what he had available in the bullpen.
“Our bullpen, we’re still down. And he’s been up to 100-plus pitches. And he looked good. The inning before that, that was the best inning I thought he had.”
Did Ross show enough to get another look if Scherzer isn’t back in time for his next turn in the rotation? Or will the Nationals go another direction next time around if they need help?