“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,” Davey Martinez said of Joe Ross after the right-handed starter’s final appearance in Grapefruit League action last month.
Ross, 27, earned the fifth spot in the rotation this spring, after opting out of playing in 2020, and as Spring Training wound up, the Nationals’ fourth-year manager said he saw signs that the sinker-baller was getting back to where he was pre-Tommy John surgery 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.”
Heading into his first start of the season yesterday, the skipper said he wanted to see Ross throw strikes and mix in his offspeed stuff.
“For me,” Martinez said, the goal is, “just to get ahead, throw strikes, work ahead of counts. Mix in his offspeed pitches. We worked a lot with him throwing changeups this spring. He threw some really good ones, and mixing in his slider as well, so but the key for all these young pitchers, and any pitchers, is really just to pound that strike zone and throw strikes.”
Ross, who hadn’t pitched since March 23 in Florida before today, threw 67 pitches total in five scoreless frame in his 2021 debut, 40 of them for strikes, and he held the Dodgers off the board, matching Walker Buehler through five before he was done for the day in LA.
Joe Ross’s Line: 5.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 4 Ks, 67 P, 40 S, 5/3 GO/FO.
Joe Ross, Pretty 94mph Front Door Sinker. pic.twitter.com/6blVS2qMLv— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 9, 2021
Luis Avilán took over for the Nationals in the sixth and gave up a two-out solo shot that was all the Dodgers needed in a 1-0 win in the series opener, but that didn’t take away from the outing Ross put together.
“He did really well,” Martinez told reporters in his post game Zoom call. “Very proud of him. He went out there and competed, kept us in the ballgame. He was up at  pitches. Like I said before, at this point right now we’ve got to be smart. He didn’t do anything really for 12 days, so he threw the ball well.”
Considering that it was Ross’s first regular season start since September 2019, and first start in a game outside of Spring Training since Game 5 of the World Series that October, he had a good day in LA.
“Like I said, he was really good,” Martinez added. “He kept the ball down in the zone. Had some good movement on his fastball, good slider, good changeup, so if he can stay like that, we have some consistency from him, we’re going to be okay. He did really well, got him through that fifth inning, and talked to him for a little bit, and I felt like he was done at that point.”
Ross, who recorded 17 called strikes overall, 10 with his sinker, said he understood the call to pull him when his manager did, but he felt good when he was on the mound.
“Hadn’t really pitched in a while, you know, I getting built up there in Spring Training, and then I think with extended time off, and the length of a full season,” it made sense, he said.
“Hopefully I’ll get built up and feel more comfortable going deeper, later in the game as we go forward, but I felt good today, and then ... turned it over the bullpen, they threw pretty well other than one home run, obviously, and that was the difference in the game.”
“When Joe is like that, if we get him built up, he can go out there and we’ll send him out for the sixth inning,” Martinez said. “But the decision was really made on longevity for him, and being able to utilize him the whole year after sitting out for such a long period of time.
“As we talked about, he hasn’t done much, we had a layoff, he threw one bullpen, but that’s it. I mean, and he goes out there and does what he does, against a really good team, and a really good lineup, that’s pretty impressive.”