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Washington Nationals need more consistency from Joe Ross at the back of the rotation...

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Joe Ross has been up and down again this season, with a solid start to the 2021 campaign and some shaky outings over the last few weeks...

Atlanta Braves v Washington Nationals Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Joe Ross gave up two runs or fewer in five of his first six starts this season, but he had a second rough outing last time out before facing the Chicago Cubs in Thursday’s series finale in Wrigley Field.

Ross, who just turned 28, allowed eight hits, three walks, and eight runs in his appearance against the Diamondbacks in Arizona’s Chase Field last weekend, throwing 86 pitches in four innings of work in what ended up an 11-4 loss.

In an April 19th start against the St. Louis Cardinals, Ross gave up eight hits and 10 runs in 4 13 IP, but he said he’d have to look closer to see if there were any comparisons between the two outings, which were the difference between a 1.64 ERA and the 5.80 ERA he had before the start against the Cubbies.

Washington Nationals v Chicago Cubs Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Asked about similarities he saw between his starts against the Cards and D-backs, Ross said, “None that really come to mind right now. I mean, that outing actually against the Cardinals I felt pretty good, I felt my velo was up, just kind of a similar situation just missing location with some heaters. I don’t think that they were as aggressive that day as they were today ... maybe 15 pitches or so and they had four or five hits already.

“Sometimes it goes your way, you get early ground balls, and fly balls and whatnot and today wasn’t really quite that day.”

Thursday afternoon’s outing wasn’t really quite Ross’s day either.

Back-to-back singles in the second and a sac fly got the Cubs on the board, after the Nats jumped out to a 2-0 lead, and the home team overtook the visitors in the third, when an 2-out error extended the inning, and Ian Happ followed with a two-out, two-run home run to right field that put the home team on top, 3-2.

Ross gave up a one-out walk and two-out single (by the opposing pitcher) in the bottom of the fourth, and Joc Pederson followed with an RBI line drive to center field that made it 4-2 and ended the Nationals’ starter’s outing just two outs into the fourth.

Joe Ross’s Line: 3.2 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 3 Ks, 1 HR, 78 P, 52 S, 3/3 GO/FO.

“He’s just — every mistake he made today they capitalized on,” manager Davey Martinez said after what ended up a 5-2 loss.

Washington Nationals v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

“He got the ball up a couple times, and they put the bat on the ball in big situations, and he gets himself in a hole. Like I said before with him, he’s got to keep the ball down in the strike zone, and his changeup down in the strike zone, he threw a couple changeups that were up and he got hammered.”

Ross lamented in his post game Zoom call with reporters that some of the damage came when he was on his way to clean outings.

“Yeah, I mean, kind of similar to last game, a couple innings there with two quick outs and then ... kind of one pitch away, guy gets on, runner gets on, runner gets over, and then ends up scoring. So, I wish I could have done a better job of putting them away there, especially in a two-out situation, but got to keep battling.”

He also needs to be more consistent in his outings, Ross added, and it starts with throwing strike one.

“I mean, got to start with early count strikes, getting ahead, I felt like I did a little bit better job today, [better] than last outing for sure. Wouldn’t really say I really had the results to go with it, but you know, getting ahead and just staying aggressive. Got to be aggressive with all my pitches, and threw a lot more changeups today, which for the most part felt good, but a couple of them got hurt, so just got to keep working, and keep going.”

“We got to continue to work with him,” Martinez said. “I mean, [Pitching Coach Jim Hickey] is going to talk to him, his bullpen session this time around, we’re going to talk to him, we’re going to kind of work with him, figure out how we can get him to consistently get that ball down.”

Ross said that looking at his outings, there’s nothing that has changed mechanically since the strong start of the season, it’s just about execution of the pitches he tries to throw.

“It’s like I said earlier, just kind of got to stay aggressive with it,” Ross said, “and if anything not be too fine. I feel like I tend to try to be picky on the corners, especially throwing the two-seam, got to kind of just let the ball work and do what it does in the zone, so maybe get a little bit more aggressive towards the middle of the plate with the fastball early on, and force them to put it in play, get some early outs, and hopefully pitch a little bit deeper and kind of limit the pitch count.”

The unfortunate COVID diagnosis for starter Erick Fedde temporarily removed the need for the team to make a decision on their rotation, but with Stephen Strasburg back, giving the club the top 4 they put together for this season, if Fedde was healthy right now, who would be on the mound next time the fifth spot in the rotation came up?