Joe Ross retired the first ten batters he faced when he went up against the Philadelphia Phillies last weekend, but an error, hit-by-pitch, and RBI single followed, and a two-out, three-run home run later that inning put the Washington Nationals in a 4-1 hole in what ended up a 5-2 loss.
Manager Davey Martinez talked after that game about Ross actually having a solid start with the exception of that one stretch in the fourth inning.
“He was attacking the strike zone, in and out, slider was good,” Martinez said.
“Threw a couple of changeups that were really good, in good spots. He was attacking the strike zone early in counts, and he just looked good, the ball was coming out well, and keeping the ball down when he needed to, but both sides of the plate, today he had great command on both sides of the plate.”
“I mean, I feel like I was one pitch away from being very good,” Ross said in assessing his own outing against the Phillies.
“Obviously two-out there, the three-run homer was not what I was trying to do. But other than that I feel like I threw the ball really well.”
Ross, 28, followed up on that outing with what was his best start of the season, and was, arguably, his best start in the majors, tossing eight scoreless on 108 pitches, giving up a total of five hits, walking no one, and striking out a season-high nine batters.
“Joe was awesome,” Martinez said after the Nationals’ 5-0 win over the San Francisco Giants on Sunday, which gave Washington a split of the four-game set.
“He had a mix of four good pitches, and kept the ball down. His two-seamer was really, really good, very effective, and his slider and changeup were also good. His four-seamer he elevated when he needed to, just a great, great day. I watched, just kept on watching him, and painted a picture of what he looks like when he’s really good, and he was really good today.”
Ross didn’t generate a lot of swings and misses, five with his sinker, four with his slider, and three with his four-seam fastball, but did get 15 called strikes with his sinker, and five called strikes on his slider, plus two with the eight changeups he threw.
“I felt great,” Ross said. “I had a lot of pitches obviously, but I felt like I could have gone out for the ninth, it wasn’t really necessary, but felt strong all the way throughout, even that last AB, kind of a long AB there, but finished strong and glad I didn’t kind of fatigue out there ... but hopefully we can build off this and kind of keep it rolling.”
Adding to the significance of what Ross did on the mound, was the fact the spared the Nats’ beleaguered bullpen of all but an inning of work, when Sam Clay tossed a scoreless ninth. It wasn’t something he was thinking about on the mound, but the right-hander acknowledged that it did help his teammates.
“I wouldn’t say I went out there like ‘I got to throw eight,’ by any means,” Ross explained, “... but obviously we had a tough couple games there, doubleheaders, and then like you said, Max [Scherzer] being out in the first, not at all what you’re kind of expecting to happen going into a series like that, but I’m glad I kind of gave the bullpen a little more rest today, we only used Clay, and hopefully [they’ll] feel fresh going into the next series. I’m not really sure what’s going on with Max, but hopefully he’s there and ready for the next start, if not have someone else fill in. Jefry [Rodriguez] threw great yesterday, so sometimes it’s going to happen and someone has to step up.”
Scherzer told reporters after testing the groin he injured in his start last Friday, he wouldn’t be able to go for his next turn this Wednesday, so someone (it’s looking like Paolo Espino as of now) will have to step up, but Martinez said on Sunday afternoon that the starters who have stepped up and produced, like Ross and his rotation mate, Erick Fedde, have been a huge boost to the team, with Stephen Strasburg in and out of the rotation this season as well.
“They picked us up, big time,” Martinez said after Fedde tossed five scoreless in the club’s other win over the Giants on Saturday (in the first of a pair of seven-inning games).
“Huge for both of those guys,” Martinez added. “They saved our bullpen, like I said before, our bullpen has been used quite a bit, they’ve come up with some big innings for us, and big games for us, so that’s very important moving forward, we have no days off till Thursday, so it was nice to give that bullpen a rest, and now we’re strong going into the Pittsburgh series.”
“These guys have stepped up, and it’s their time now. I mean, it really is. These guys have been here, they’ve had their struggles, now they got some confidence and they’re pitching the way we really thought and envisioned them pitching. So, we just got to keep them going.
“The biggest thing for me is not only on the fifth day, but their routine in-between to keep them healthy.”
Ross said he’s been watching Scherzer closely as he works to keep himself healthy as well, and tries to pick up some tips from the reliable, veteran starter.
“Max is probably one of the best to learn from as far as the between-start routine to kind of build up that stamina to go out there,” Ross said. “I mean, he’s had more eight, nine-inning games than I’ve seen personally, than anyone I can think of. So it’s just things like that that you kind of put together, and more than anything I feel like the efficiency during the game will allow you obviously to pitch further into the game and more innings and things like that. I would say a combination of everything, and I think everything just kind of came together today and got a good win and split the series which was pretty huge I think.”