Joe Ross allowed two earned runs or fewer in six of eight starts before last night’s outing in the nation’s capital against the Cincinnati Reds, but in the two outings in which he gave up more than two, he was hit hard, for a combined 16 hits and 18 ER in 8 1⁄3 innings.
Ross, 28, came into the outing against the Reds winless in four starts in May, having given up 21 hits and 16 runs (14 ER) in those appearances, over which opposing hitters have put up a .284/.386/.473 line against the right-hander.
“We got to continue to work with him. I mean,” manager Davey Martinez told reporters after Ross gave up five hits and four runs (2 ER) in just 3 2⁄3 IP against the Cubs in Wrigley Field on the recently-completed road trip.
“[Pitching coach Jim] Hickey is going to talk to him, his bullpen session this time around,” the manager said.
“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 struggled to get out of innings in Chicago, and said afterwards he thought it was more of a mental as opposed to mechanical issue.
“I would say more of a mental approach,” Ross said.
“Just not trying to be too fine,” he explained, “... work on really pounding the zone, and if it’s middle-in, middle-in that will work, but you start to try and nibble like that and then you kind of get yourself behind in the count, 2-0, 3-0, 3-1, things like that where the hitter kind of has the advantage there, so try to avoid those.”
Ross worked around a single and walk in the opening frame against the Reds last night, and back-to-back, one-out singles in the second, then retired the final eight batters he faced for four scoreless overall, on 55 pitches, but rain ended things there, and the game, after three hours, was suspended, to be completed at 2:05 PM today.
It was a small sample, but both Ross and his manager were happy with what he was able to do against the Reds.
“It felt really good,” Ross said.
“I felt like I was a little more back on track than the last couple games, and fastball felt good, had some good sliders, only threw a couple changeups, but some of them I felt pretty good about, so it is what it is, but overall I felt good about how I threw the ball.”
“He threw the ball well,” Martinez said. “His slider was really sharp today, he had a lot of tilt on his slider today, but he threw the ball really well.”
The fourth-year skipper also noted that Ross did move his hands a little, in the set-up for his delivery, which is something the righty and his pitching coach worked on between outings.
Washington Post writer Jesse Dougherty noted the change in a Twitter thread during the game...
If you watch him tonight, his hands start around his chest, then he moves them to around his belt, then he moves them back up to the original point of separation, just with a lot more rhythm than before. Very early results have been good. Command is a whole lot better tonight.— Jesse Dougherty (@dougherty_jesse) May 27, 2021
“He worked on some stuff with Hickey in his previous bullpen. Got his hands closer to his body,” Martinez said.
“He felt a little bit more compact, he was driving more towards home plate, and like I said, he looked good. I think his slider was really good today.”
“It’s kind of a feel thing,” Ross said. “I feel like I kind of had my — put myself in a better slot I feel like.
“So it was kind of an adjustment there before the game and went with it, and felt pretty good coming out of my hand.”
How would he describe the adjustment?
“I would say just like higher hands to start in the wind-up. I was kind of staying lower around my belt, belly button-ish the last couple of weeks, which felt good, but then obviously things weren’t really going well so I was trying to figure some stuff out, and it just kind of felt better. Feel like I put my hand in a better position coming through trying to deliver the pitches, fastball, changeup, slider, stuff like that.”
Early returns on the adjustments were positive. But it was somewhat frustrating to have the outing end abruptly when the weather wouldn’t cooperate.
“I would say more so just because the last couple starts hadn’t been so great, so kind of getting on a roll and then just kind of the slow pace of play, but it’s just kind of how the game had gone so far, and then obviously it rained, but the first rain game I’ve had to deal with this year, which usually kind of happens a lot, but I’m sure it won’t be the last,” Ross joked.
Martinez and Co. on the bench and in the front office would probably have liked a longer look at Ross too, because with Erick Fedde out for now on the COVID-IL, but expected to return at some point in the near future, there will be decisions to make in the fifth spot in the rotation (assuming no other injuries or hiccups before then). So having a longer look might have helped with the decision-making.
“I believe that he — of course he wanted to finish it out, but he was pleased by the way he threw the ball and so were we,” Martinez said.
“He gave us every opportunity to win a ballgame today, and that’s great, so like I’ve always said before, I want the guys to make my decision tough on what we’re going to do and he did that tonight, and in the big picture, as I’ve always said with those two guys, we’re going to need them both and they’re both somehow, somewhere going to get an opportunity to start, so I liked what he did tonight, and when Fedde gets back we’ll worry about that when he’s ready to go again.”