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Washington Nationals’ 2022 Rotation: Joe Ross avoided 2nd TJS in 2021; what’s next?

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Joe Ross was shut down in August with a UCL sprain, but doctors didn’t recommend TJS for the right-hander…

Washington Nationals v New York Mets Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images

One of the final updates on Joe Ross this past season came from Davey Martinez in an early September Zoom call with reporters. Ross, 28, was diagnosed with a partial tear of the UCL in his right elbow in August, but the right-hander and his doctors decided he wouldn’t need a second Tommy John surgery, after he had TJS for the first time in 2017. He was shut down for the season after an August 10th start this summer with a 4.17 ERA, a 4.36 FIP, 34 walks, and 109 Ks in 20 games, 19 starts, and 108 innings, with a .237/.306/.402 line against on the year.

“He’s doing fine,” Martinez said on September 3rd.

“He’s just got to rehab, but he’s doing a lot of work on his lower half, core exercises, can’t do anything yet with his throwing arm, but he’s working out, he’s staying positive, which is good, as you know he’s still going to be shut down, but hopefully he’ll start throwing here fairly soon, and then we’ll build him up this winter.”

Though he has been able to avoid a second Tommy John thus far, Martinez noted in announcing the news in August that it wasn’t easy for Ross to take another setback.

“Of course he’s not going to be happy,” Martinez said, “because he wanted to continue to pitch, but like I said, I think that’s great news, and we’ll get him the rest that he needs and get him back on the mound as soon as we can, but I don’t expect him at this point to pitch any more this year, because we want to make sure that he’s completely healthy and that he’s ready to go in Spring Training.”

Ross went to see Dr. Keith Meister, who performed TJS on the pitcher’s right elbow back in ‘17 after he felt right forearm tightness following a bullpen session, and he was evaluated by Dr. [Robert] Najarian, who said his exam was consistent with a flexor pronator strain, Martinez said.

“We sent him for an MRI due to his past history,” the manager explained. “We got the MRI back and it showed a partial tear of his UCL.”

“[Dr. Meister] said it’s basically a sprain, so he’s going to have some significant amount of time before he comes back, but I deem that good news, so we’ll see when he gets back, he’s going to have to go through some extensive rehab, some time off, but I thought that was good news that he won’t need surgery as of right now.”

Ross will arrive in West Palm Beach, FL next spring as one of several pitchers (alongside Will Harris, Stephen Strasburg, and others), who will be working their way back to full strength after their respective injuries limited them in the 2021 campaign, which as Martinez said over the final weekend of the season, was one of his biggest frustrations in a year chock full of frustrating developments.

“Joe is doing really well,” Martinez said in early October. “He’s been working out diligently.

“He’s going to work out all winter in Dallas. He’s going to Dallas to work out all winter there, and we expect him to be full recovery come Spring Training.”

“We’re hoping that — with no setbacks — these guys come to Spring Training and they’re ready to throw, they’re ready to compete in Spring Training, get some innings in, and build them back up.

“The toughest thing and the thing that we’ve got to think about, is the fact that for Joe Ross, and for Stephen Strasburg, for Will Harris, that they missed so much time.

“I think Stras has only pitched 29 innings in two years. We still got to be really careful moving forward.

“We’ve got to be real careful with Joe, and Will Harris as well, so the fact that we’re going to get them back is great, but we really got to really focus on how to keep them healthy throughout the whole year next year, and build them up. That’s going to be a tall task, but we’re prepared for it, and I know our medical staff is on it, so like I said, it’s nice that they’re going to be able to come back, and it’s great that we’re going to get them back.”

In his season-ending talk with reporters, GM Mike Rizzo said that the club would need to get contributions from Ross, Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin (who’s not injured, but has struggled the past two seasons) if they’re going to turn things around sooner than later as they reboot the organization following this past July 30th’s sell-off at the trade deadline.

“I think that it’s a reasonable expectation that Strasburg and Patrick and Ross have to pitch more effectively and more often for us to quicken this reboot,” Rizzo explained at that time, “... but this thing is built on starting pitching, starting pitching depth, and that’s what we’re trying to obtain via free agency, draft, and that type of thing like we have in the past.”