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Joe Ross and Washington Nationals’ 5th starter battle...

Davey Martinez thinks we’re finally seeing Joe Ross back in his pre-Tommy John form.

MLB: New York Mets at Washington Nationals Rhona Wise-USA TODAY Sports

Starlin Castro started at third, and then left the game after tweaking his leg. Carter Kieboom came on as a replacement at third base, and the expected everyday regular at third made a few nice plays on defense. Jon Lester got his second start of the spring in as he builds up. It was easy to miss Joe Ross’s outing in relief in the midst of all the aforementioned drama the Nationals were dealing with this past Tuesday.

Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez noted the 27-year-old right-hander’s performance when he talked after the game about the leading candidate for the fifth spot in Washington’s ‘21 rotation.

Ross gave up four hits and two runs in 4 23 innings pitched against the St. Louis Cardinals in his third appearance in Grapefruit League action, leaving him with a 2.79 ERA in 9 23 IP, two walks, eight Ks, and a .194 BAA this spring.

So was his manager ready to name Ross the fifth starter in the Nationals’ rotation, after weeks of battling with righties Erick Fedde and Austin Voth for the final spot behind Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, and Jon Lester?

“We’ll hold off on that one,” Martinez said with a laugh. “Let him get out there and get one more start and then we’ll see what happens after that.

“The other guys are throwing the ball well too. Fedde is going to get another chance to go out there and start. I just want to see how this all plays out, but Joe looks really good.”

Does he see the race for the fifth spot as a close one?

Martinez reiterated what he’s said before when asked about the competition: All three will likely end up playing a role for the team in 2021.

“These guys, regardless of who’s going to start or what, I feel like they’ll all have an opportunity to pitch here, and like I said before, we’re going to need all these guys throughout the course of the year, so they understand that.”

What he saw from Ross against the Cards did impress the fourth-year manager, though he stopped short of declaring that the sinker-balling righty has claimed a rotation spot.

“I like him pounding that strike zone,” Martinez said.

“His fastball was live, he came out throwing 95, which was great, but his slider and cutter [were] really impressive today as well, so he’s in a good spot, he’s in a good place, he felt good, we’ll stretch him out hopefully the next time to 85-90 pitches.

“And he’s going to be ready to go, but I like where he’s at right now, he looks really good.”

Martinez also explained how an adjustment to his arm angle has added some deception to Ross’s delivery.

“I think his arm angle and his arm action is a little bit different,” the manager explained. “His deception is what I’m noticing. That the balls are getting on hitters. And that’s something that we talked about, that’s something that he wanted to get back to, and right now he’s in a good spot, and it’s helping him throw a lot more strikes, as you can tell. I really like the way he’s throwing the ball the ball right now, so we’ve got to build him up and the biggest thing is consistency now.”

When he talks about Ross getting back to what he’s done in the past? What are they trying to get back to?

“In the sense of before his Tommy John,” Martinez said, referring to the surgical procedure Ross underwent in 2017.

“He worked really hard, his arm feels great, his body is great, so I feel like he’s back to where he was back then.”

SPOILER ALERT: In discussing how he would use and protect his starters this season, with a possibility of even using an opener at times, or going with bullpen days early in 2021, Davey Martinez talked on Thursday about it really being a matter of considering all your options, pitching-wise, especially considering the light workload some of the pitchers had in 2020.

“We’re looking at all these different options, but I want to be prepared for anything, because you never know. We’ve got two guys in the rotation that didn’t pitch at all last year.

“One, Joe Ross, and the other [Stephen] Strasburg. He hasn’t pitched. He threw five innings last year,” Martinez said. Wait, did he just say Ross is in the rotation?