Over at The Athletic this past September, Ken Rosenthal noted that in deciding to opt out of playing in the 60-game 2020 COVID campaign, Washington Nationals’ righty Joe Ross took a $555,555 loss, and ended up having, “his free agency delayed by one year, until the 2022-23 offseason.”
Was there any point last season, at which Ross ended up regretting his decision?
“I wouldn’t say I felt like I made the wrong decision,” Ross told reporters on a Zoom call on Friday, as he promoted his participation in The Players Alliance’s Pull Up Neighbor mobile tour, which will be stopping in D.C. today (from 2:30-4:30 PM ET at the Temple of Praise - 700 Southern Ave. SE Washington DC 20032), handing out baseball gear and equipment, fresh produce and shelf-stable products, and COVID resources — “... face coverings, hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, and hygiene products.”
“There was a lot of — like you saw with the Marlins and certain teams where a lot of major kind of breakouts happened and altered their season — I think at one point early, maybe within the first month, they had played maybe 12-15 less games than other teams and it’s just kind of a weird thing. So, no I wouldn’t say I second-guessed it.
“Obviously, watching them play, I want to be out there, I kind of want to be with the team.
“But I made the decision and have to go with my gut instinct. And that’s what I did.”
In addition to his gut, Ross, 27, listened to family members when it came time to make his decision to play or opt out.
“I feel like a lot of things kind of went into the decision,” he explained. “I don’t know the last time we’ve ever had a Spring Training and a whole season shut down, you know, it was very odd as far as the days leading up. I feel like — one day you had a meeting about what was going on, it seemed kind of like nothing was really happening. And then that same week you were told that, ‘Spring Training is over, pack your stuff up and you’re free to go home, stay if you want, but kind of be prepared to be locked down for a while.’
“That was definitely a weird time, I think for everyone, honestly.
“With the medical professionals in my family — both my parents, my sister, some close family friends — it just kind of made sense I think to take this as serious as you could. There were a lot of unanswered questions I think kind of going into it. Not that we know everything now, obviously, but the initial shock value of what was happening kind of added up with a few other things, and I decided to take time away, which is always hard to do.”
Ross underwent Tommy John surgery in 2017, then returned to make three starts in the big leagues in 2018, and made 27 appearances, nine starts, in 2019, posting a 5.48 ERA, a 4.59 FIP, 4.64 BB/9, and 8.02 K/9 in 64 IP, (with two appearances and one start in the postseason for the World Series champs that year). Having missed significant time dealing with injuries in his career, deciding to take a year off while healthy wasn’t easy.
“I feel like in the past,” Ross acknowledged, “the only time you could probably drag me off the field is if I literally couldn’t throw a baseball.
“So to kind of sideline myself is a little bit different this year.”
“It made me appreciate what baseball does give me during the season,” he added, “... and I definitely missed that camaraderie being around the team, who kind of is your family, you’re around them for 200+ days [a year]. But also appreciating the things that kind of come with being away from baseball.
“Spending time with family. My nephew right now is 1 1⁄2, so seeing him literally grow up from barely being able to walk to now he’s running around like crazy, so you know, it definitely gave me some different opportunities. It was a tough decision, but it kind of makes Spring Training 2021 that much more exciting for myself and I’m excited to get it going again.”
Ross threw with his older brother, Tyson, in California, worked with a conditioning coach who lived nearby, and tried to stay in shape throughout the time off.
“Definitely stayed after it,” he said, “and it made it easier to ramp up as this offseason, the normal dates of an offseason, came back here in October, November.
“It was nice to have that break on the arm, I guess, not be taxing myself, but at the same time always have that itch to get better, to work a little bit.”
“It was definitely a weird time,” he continued, “but I got through it, and it definitely helped being able to do that with my big brother.”
Ross said at this point, in spite of the continuing issues with the pandemic around the U.S., he’s comfortable with the idea of getting back at it in Spring Training and getting ready for the 2021 campaign.
He avoided arbitration with the Nationals this past week, agreeing on the same 1-year/$1.5M he signed last winter, and he’ll be back in West Palm Beach, FL battling for a rotation spot in Washington.
“Still competing for a starting spot,” Ross said. “I don’t think the extra time off for myself is really a disadvantage. I know it’s easier to kind of get back in the swing of things when you have less time off, but I’ve always been confident in myself and my abilities, so [my goal is] to come back and have a strong year and earn one of the starting spots, and be able to compete alongside the starters that we have, which are some of the best in the game, for sure.
“So, it’s always fun to be around them and you’re always learning something, and those are some of the things that I look forward to doing again this year that I kind of missed out on last year.”
Could the time off actually be a benefit for him?
“I would say a little similarity to being injured,” he said of having to ramp back up and return to action.
“There’s a — I’m sure the adrenaline the first time back facing hitters is going to be through the roof.
“I think that might be the biggest thing as I start to throw off the mound more and getting guys in the box to kind of build that comfort up.
“I’m sure ‘rust’ is the word you can use, but it will be different with this extended time off, but I think that at the same time it kind of gave my arm a break and I could use it to my advantage in the long run as far as being prepared for the season.
“I’m sure that the first live BP jitters are going to be real. I look forward to it, it’s always a fun competition usually. That’s the first time those guys see pitching since the season ended.
“We’ll see how it goes, I’m excited to get it going and I expect myself to be as competitive as ever.
“I usually have very high expectations for myself, so we’ll see how it goes.”