Joe Ross bounced back from a rough 4 1⁄3-inning, eight-hit, three-walk, 10-run outing in D.C. against the St. Louis Cardinals, with a strong six-inning outing against the New York Mets in Citi Field this past weekend. Ross gave up five hits, one walk, and one run in a 7-1 win, but the 27-year-old righty was critical of his performance when he spoke with reporters about his fourth start of the 2021 campaign.
While he was able to, for the most part, stay down in the zone against the Mets after he left a number of pitches up when he faced the Cardinals, Ross noted that he, “... still had some misses today,” including a slider up in the zone to Michael Conforto that the Mets’ slugger hit out for the only run the Nationals’ starter surrendered.
“But I feel like the misses were less over the middle of the plate and up,” Ross explained, “... and then more off for balls or whatever. So yeah, just staying down in the zone. Slider wasn’t great today, but it was good in situations I guess where it needed to be. Obviously, the one that was a homer was not a very good pitch, I don’t think, but other than that, just keeping the ball down in the zone and just staying aggressive.”
“He threw the ball down for the most part,” manager Davey Martinez said after the Nationals’ only win in the three-game series.
“When he threw the ball up it was meant to go up. He meant to pitch up on some of these guys, but for the most part the ball was down, which was nice.”
“When he commands the strike zone and gets the ball down, he’s going to do good, so it’s good to see he bounced back after his last outing,” Martinez added.
Though he wasn’t completely happy with his slider, it looked, to a casual observer, like he’d gotten outs with it, and, aside from the home run, thrown it pretty effectively, with six called and six swinging strikes with the pitch on the day, but he said consistency with the pitch in the outing was something he found lacking.
“Definitely threw some good ones,” he explained, “... but I felt like I threw some that kind of backed up a little bit. Velocity wasn’t very consistent throughout the game. I feel like some I kind of floated in there a little bit more than others. I felt like my better sliders were one-strike sliders and tried to execute the two-strike and just couldn’t quite bury it like I wanted to, but that’s going to happen so I’ll just try to make the adjustment going into the next game.”
That’s fair. But still, he did get through six innings on 91 pitches, giving up just the one run on five hits and a walk. So how did he make it work?
Did he just find a way with what he had?
“Yeah, I mean, sometimes find a way, sometimes good defense,” Ross said.
“[Hitting Pete] Alonso with an 0-2 fastball is not ideal, and then next pitch double play ball on a changeup, so sometimes they just go in your favor, sometimes you’ll feel great and you’ll get hit around. I felt like last start my velocity was a little bit better, I felt maybe a little bit better, but obviously the result didn’t really reflect that. You’re not always going to feel 100%, but I ended up doing pretty well, and getting us the win today.”
But really, he was just kind of being super-critical of himself, right? Which, as a big league pitcher, is probably normal, and a good thing.
“Yeah. I’m pretty self-critical,” Ross acknowledge. “That’s just kind of how it is I guess.”
“You get like that,” his manager said. “They pick out their mistakes. But he did so much more good that he needs to realize and focus on the good. One thing I always tell the coaches, ‘Let’s take the positives out of everything and make them that much better that the negatives will go away.’ And that’s something that as a young player you start realizing. Like going over there, and for me, if you’re watching video on yourself, why would I want to watch something that I did wrong? I want to watch something that I did right and continue to watch that. I’m not going to watch all the times I struck out, I’m going to watch all the times I hit a line drive to left-center field, right-center field, and that’s what we’re trying to teach these guys. Forget about the things you’ve done wrong, look at the things you’ve done right and learn from that and continue to do those things.”
Martinez, a former major league outfielder, talked about video of his hits, of course, but how do he and pitching coach Jim Hickey break down pitchers’ outings while they’re discussing what is and isn’t working after their starts?
“We talk to them. Hickey will have conversations with them,” he said the day after Ross’s turn in the rotation.
“Like I said, he did so many things — I watched the way he pitched yesterday, and yeah, of course he made a couple mistakes, but overall he made pitches when they counted most and he threw the ball really well. He kept the ball down and threw the ball up when he needed to, so for me, it was more of a positive than a negative. And it’s just the way — the mentality of this game is so — if you get ten at bats or whatever and you make out seven times, you’re still hitting .300. To me that’s pretty good, right. It’s the same thing for the pitcher.
“If you throw two pitches or three pitches, and you make mistakes on them, and for me yesterday, they weren’t costly at all. But learn from the other 50-60 pitches that you made that were really good. Those are the ones you want to put in your memory, not the bad ones.”