Joe Ross had his last outing before Saturday’s start in Chicago cut short by a comebacker that caught his right shin, but the 26-year-old right-hander has been on an impressive run recently, following a mechanical tweak or two, that had the Nationals’ brass talking about him getting back to being the pitcher he underwent Tommy John surgery.
“When I was on the other side watching Joe pitch, he’s throwing the ball right now about as good as I’ve seen him from the other side,” Davey Martinez told reporters after Ross threw a total of 6 2⁄3 innings against Cincinnati earlier this month, holding the Reds to a run on five hits in a 3-1 win.
“His two-seamer is sinking really well. He throws his four-seamer up, with two strikes, which is unbelievable. His curveball has been very, very effective, and he can throw it for a strike now, he gets a lot of chase. You want to call a slider, I think of it more as a cutter, cause it’s about 89-90, makes it really effective as well.”
Ross was up to 3 1⁄3 scoreless against the Pittsburgh Pirates before the one-hopper caught his shin last week, leaving him with a 0.42 ERA and a .164/.256/.219 line against in his last four starts and 21 1⁄3 IP.
Going up against the Cubs on Saturday afternoon in Wrigley, Ross, who started the game with a 55% ground ball percentage in the month of August, got double play grounders in the first and second innings, erasing an error in the first and a one-out single in the second to complete two scoreless on 21 pitches.
Given a 1-0 lead to work with before he took the mound, and a 5-0 lead after two and a half, Ross gave up a leadoff single and a two-out walk in the third, and the Cubs scored their first run on an RBI single to left by Nick Castellanos, who got a grounder through the infield, 5-1.
A leadoff walk (to Anthony Rizzo) and ground-rule double (by Javier Báez) put runners on second and third with no one out in the fourth, but Ross struck Kyle Schwarber and Victor Caratini out, then issued a base-loading walk to Tony Kemp before getting pinch hitter Ian Happ looking with a 3-2 sinker outside that was called strike three (though it wasnt’ a strike, and Happ got ejected when he let home plate ump Vic Carapazza know he’d blown the call).
A one-out single by Castellanos, a walk to Kris Bryant, and a ground-rule double to left field by pinch hitter Jonathan Lucroy in the Cubs’ fifth inning made it 5-2 and ended Ross’s day, after 88 pitches overall in 4 1⁄3 IP.
Joe Ross’s Line: 4.1 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 3 Ks, 88 P, 48 S, 6/0 GO/FO.
Wander Suero took over with two on and one out in the fifth, struck Javier Báez out with a 3-2 cutter, and popped Kyle Schwarber up with an 0-1 cutter to strand both of the runners he inherited and keep the Nationals head by three in what ended up a 7-2 win.
Tanner Rainey, Hunter Strickland, Fernando Rodney, and Daniel Hudson followed Ross and Suero on the mound, holding the Cubs to one hit and two walks in 4 2⁄3 scoreless.
“Joe gave us what he had today and then our bullpen was outstanding,” Martinez said when he spoke to reporters after the win.
“Starting with Suero who got two big outs for us, two big strikeouts, and then the rest of the guys were phenomenal.”
Ross worked his way into and out of trouble in the fourth, but the 30-pitch frame shortened his outing.
“I was really bearing down with runners on, especially in scoring position,” Ross said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman after the game.
“I kind of worked myself out of the jam there in the fourth inning. I just tried to execute the big pitches in the big counts and big situations. It paid off.”
Ross’s abbreviated outing forced Martinez to lean on his pen, but the relief corps came up big, starting with Suero, who’s 3-2 cutter to Báez for the second out of the inning was filthy enough to get the @PitchingNinja treatment:
Wander Suero, Wicked 95mph Cutter. ✂️ pic.twitter.com/EdQc1rJ8cd— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 24, 2019
“He’s got really good stuff, really good stuff,” Martinez said of Suero, “and like I told him, I said, you know, the biggest thing for him is one, being consistent, and two, having confidence in throwing it, but his ball moves tremendously, and as you saw with Javy, he threw some pretty good ones to Happ too, so I mean he had good stuff.”
Tanner Rainey’s three-pitch K of Tony Kemp made it onto @PitchingNinja’s feed as well:
Tanner Rainey, Overpowering 3 Pitch K (2 s & a 99mph FB). pic.twitter.com/OUul2cUc89— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 24, 2019
Strickland struck out the side in the seventh, and while he didn’t get on @PitchingNinja’s Twitter feed, he did impress his manager.
“[Strickland has] been really good,” Martinez said, “and I said this before, he’s a veteran guy that’s been in high-leverage situations that can do multiple things, and he’s a guy that goes out there and you know he throws strikes, which is key, but I never realized how good a stuff he really has, and now seeing him every day, he’s got a good curveball, really good fastball, and he’s got a changeup that’s really good, so he’s got three really nasty pitches that he can throw effectively and throw for strikes.”
With the win, which was the fourth straight, sixth in the last seven, 11th in 13, and 53rd in the last 79, the Nationals took the series with the Cubs, and gave themselves a chance to sweep in the finale this afternoon.