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Washington Nationals need to get consistent outings from Joe Ross; he comes up big again

Joe Ross has been up and down all season, but he’s trying to put together consistent outings...

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Ross tossed eight scoreless against the Giants on June 13th, then gave up six hits and five earned runs in five innings on June 19th against the Mets, before bouncing back in an impressive outing against the Marlins on the 24th in which he kept the Nationals’ NL East rivals off the board over seven strong innings of work.

It’s been an up and down season for the 28-year-old right-hander, who opted out of the 2020 campaign, but returned to pitch this year.

“We need to get him consistent with that, every five days,” manager Davey Martinez said in his post game Zoom call with reporters in Miami. “In order to be a starter here, that’s what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to throw the ball over the plate, you can’t walk guys, you’ve got to make your pitches, and he did well tonight, so we’ll get him the rest he needs here in the next five days, and he’ll come back and hopefully give us another strong performance.”

He did.

Ross took the mound last night in the nation’s capital against the Tampa Bay Rays and held the AL East’s second place team to two runs on six hits, walking two, and striking out seven in an 88-pitch effort in a 4-3 win.

Joe Ross’s Line: 6.1 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 7 Ks, 1 HR, 88 P, 57 S, 7/4 GO/FO.

Martinez talked after the win about the outing, the importance of Ross going deep with a beleaguered bullpen, and the velo of the sinker-balling righty’s two-seamer being up a tick.

“It was big, it was big,” the fourth-year manager said. “That last inning, he went out there and he battled, and you know, as I was talking to [Pitching Coach Jim] Hickey, as we know, the game before he pitched, he went eight innings, so I thought at that particular time he was done, and he gave us the innings that we needed, and we brought Sam [Clay] in, but [Ross is] pitching unbelievably right now and he’s fantastic, and like I said, when he’s in the strike zone and pumping fastballs, and his slider is working, he’s really good.”

Ross has averaged 93.3 MPH with his sinker this season, but it was up to 95.1 MPH against the Rays, and maxed out at 96.1, with his four-seamer 94.8 MPH AVG, and up to 96.2.

“I honestly think he’s starting to get — the warm weather definitely helps him — but I think he’s getting in the groove ... and his mechanics were really spot-on tonight,” Martinez said.

“They were extremely aggressive,” Ross said when asked about his relatively efficient start against the Rays. “Especially the first inning, I felt like the first four guys probably swung at the first pitch, so just working the sinker and getting the early contact, I don’t want to give up hits, but when they’re first pitch, it kind of helps me out as far as being able to pitch deeper into the game.”

Ross tossed four scoreless to start, then gave up a two-out home run in the fifth, and two doubles and a run in the sixth, but with a 4-2 lead, he came back out for the seventh and only left the mound after a leadoff walk and a swinging K.

What’s been different for Ross in the last two starts, versus the one’s he’s struggled in?

”I think just settling in and kind of finding your groove,” he said, “ ... been able to be more efficient and pitch longer into games, and we’ve had some bullpen injuries and stuff, that have kind of been unfortunate, but we’ve been able — as starters in general, kind of picking up and getting deeper into games and making them work less when we can.”

Getting an early lead to work with again helps as well, with Kyle Schwarber once again hitting a leadoff home run in the bottom of the first, before Juan Soto hit a two-run shot which put the Nationals up 3-0 after one.

“It’s great, like I said before starting 1-0 every game, even at home in the bottom half, is pretty amazing,” Ross said, “and it’s kind of a joke at this point, it’s like every time [Schwarber] goes up there I see him hit a ball 350-370 right field, so he’s on a roll obviously, and it’s fun to watch, but getting early runs is huge and then just staying aggressive on the mound and trying not to be too fine, let the defense make some plays, and keep scoring.”