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Washington Nationals’ Joe Ross on his odd journey through the 2019 campaign...

Joe Ross started the season in the bullpen, but finished the year in the rotation, with Davey Martinez acknowledging that the Nationals still view Ross as a starter.

Atlanta Braves v Washington Nationals Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Joe Ross was on a nice run in August, settling back into the Nationals’ rotation with a 1.05 ERA, 13 walks, 16 Ks, and a .200/.301/.267 line against in five starts and 25 23 innings, but the month of September started with a rough outing for the right-hander, who gave up a total of eight hits, three walks, and seven earned runs in 3 23 IP against New York’s Mets.

Then Ross experienced forearm discomfort throwing between outings after that start, and before Tuesday’s outing he hadn’t pitched in three weeks, though Bench Coach Chip Hale, taking manager Davey Martinez’s place in Monday’s pregame presser, said that the right-hander, who had Tommy John surgery in 2017, made good progress recently.

“He’s thrown a ton of flat ground, a lot of long-toss,” Hale said, “and has had no issues with it. Feels good. So we’re excited to get him back out there. Obviously the pitch count will be monitored, and we have [Erick] Fedde and [Jeremy] Hellickson that can go long after him if we need it, so we’ll just piece it together.”

Ross looked like he might have a short outing in the first on Tuesday, as the Phillies loaded the bases with a leadoff walk and two singles in the opening frame, and they scored a run on their fourth hit of the inning before the Nationals’ starter settled in and limited the damage to one run, leaving them loaded in what ended up a 28-pitch opening frame.

Ross held the Phillies there through four, throwing 26 pitches over the next three frames, for 64 total on the day...

Joe Ross’s Line: 4.0 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 4 Ks, 64 P, 40 S, 4/0 GO/FO.

It was a relatively brief, sinker-heavy start for Ross, who threw 31 total out of his 64 pitches, and got six called strikes with the pitch.

“He did an awesome job,” Davey Martinez said after Ross’s outing in what ended up a 4-1 win in which the starter received no decision.

“We wanted to keep him under 70 pitches. He threw a lot of pitches the first inning, but to me, that’s to be expected, when you haven’t faced hitters in a while, your location is going to be off a little bit.

“But he battled, and he had really good stuff, and he started settling down. Got a big double play, but he settled down and pitched really well.”

“I was just trying to make some quality pitches, I was definitely falling behind there,” Ross said of the long first, “... and it was kind of just, first inning back, runners on, it’s like right back in the fire, so just tried to settle down, and work my way out.

“If I give up one or two runs, it’s not the end of the world,” he added, “... but obviously you don’t want to leave the first inning with a four-spot. So you know, did a good job and then kind of settled down from there.”

It’s been a long, odd season for Ross, who started the year in the bullpen, where things did not go so well (which is a polite understatement - 11.05 ERA, .338/.449/.585 line against over 14 23 IP out of the pen), but he returned to the rotation in his full season back following his Tommy John surgery in 2017, and he finished strong.

“For me, moving forward, he’s going to be a starter for us in the future,” Martinez said when asked what to make of Ross’s 2019 campaign as a whole.

“The biggest thing is to really keep him healthy moving forward,” the Nats’ skipper added.

“I love his stuff, and I think he’s starting to figure out his true identity and how he wants to attack hitters, which is really nice.”

“It’s definitely been a journey,” Ross said. “I think early on, I was definitely out of the bullpen using a lot more four-seams, coming in in certain situations where you don’t have the luxury of working with the sinker and trying to find the feel, so kind of going back and forth with that, and then getting back in the starting spot, and just trusting the sinker, and trying to get the ground balls, and carry myself deeper into the game definitely helped.”

“I feel like working with a bunch of the guys, outside of just the pitching coach,” Ross said, “with Stephen [Strasburg] and Max [Scherzer] and Aníbal [Sánchez] and everything, so it’s been a process, but I feel good and feel like I’m getting stronger as the year’s been going, and hopefully take that into the final week of the season and then go from there.”