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Washington Nationals’ Joe Ross one pitch away from a very good outing...

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Joe Ross had one inning get away from him in Saturday’s loss to the Phillies in Citizens Bank Park.

Washington Nationals v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images

Joe Ross put together three strong starts and one clunker in April, and was up and down in a winless May which saw the 28-year-old righty go (0-4) in six starts with the club 1-5 in his outings.

Ross had a 6.00 ERA, 15 walks, 29 Ks, and a .255/.352/.415 line against in 27 innings pitched last month.

Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez talked to reporters before Ross faced the Braves last week in Atlanta’s Truist Park, about what he wanted to see from his starter in the outing against an aggressive lineup.

“To attack the strike zone like always. Mix in his pitches,” Martinez said. We got to get him in that strike zone though, he can’t fall behind.”

“We got to get him to attack the strike zone early.”

Ross actually struggled early in Atlanta though, giving up two of the three hits he allowed overall, all three walks in the five-inning outing, and three of the four runs he gave up in a 32-pitch top of the first, before settling in and giving up just one run on one hit (a solo HR) over the four innings that followed.

Washington Nationals v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images

Martinez credited a mound visit from pitching coach Jim Hickey in the first with settling Ross down.

“I think he was just coming out — he was leading with his head a little bit more than usual ... he was trying to get a little bit more on his fastball.

“Hickey went out there and talked to him kind of settled him down a little bit and he started getting behind his pitches a little better and was able to get him back in the strike zone,” he explained, “and then after the first inning he was really good. Real good.

“Now we just got to get him out there and get him under control that first couple innings and then go from there.”

What did they work on as Ross prepared to face the Philadelphia Phillies in his outing on Saturday afternoon in Citizens Bank Park so that he could hopefully avoid another tough start in the early innings?

“Hickey worked a lot with, one, his changeup, because he needs to throw that third pitch,” Martinez told reporters before the 2nd of 3 with the Phils, “and two, also, is about keeping his head from drifting forward, that was the issue in the first inning with him [in Atlanta]. Once he settled down he was able to keep everything behind him, he started throwing the ball better, locating a lot better, so, we want him to go out there and one, not think about those things when you go out there. That’s the last thing that you want to do, they worked on it, just go out there and compete from the first inning on and try to throw up a zero the first inning, and then get into that groove and get back in that game and give us the best you got.”

Ross threw up zeroes in each of the first three innings against the Phillies, retiring the first nine batters in order on 35 pitches, and he was up to 10-in-a-row set down before things went all pear-shaped in the bottom of the fourth.

An error by Josh Bell on a one-out Jean Segura ground ball, a HBP on Bryce Harper on an 0-2 slider, and the first hit of the game, a bloop hit to center by Rhys Hoskins tied things up at 1-1 after the Nationals jumped out to an early lead.

One out later Andrew McCutchen jumped on a first-pitch slider and hit it out to left for a three-run blast and a 4-1 Philly lead.

Ross got through the fifth and sixth without further damage, but left the game with the club still behind by three in what ended up a 5-2 loss.

Joe Ross’s Line: 6.0 IP, 3 H, 4 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 4 Ks, 1 HR, 92 P, 58 S, 6/5 GO/FO.

Martinez was asked after the game what went wrong for Ross in the fourth, when things got out of hand quickly.

“Let’s talk about his overall performance,” Martinez said. “I thought he did great. it was the error, the hit batsmen, and then he just made one bad pitch to McCutchen. But other than that, he threw the ball really, really well.”

“He was attacking the strike zone,” the skipper added, “in and out. Slider was good. 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.”

And that first-pitch slider to McCutchen?

MLB: Washington Nationals at Philadelphia Phillies Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

“You just got to understand in a moment like that you’ve got to make pitches. I mean, you know, and he did that, just that one pitch. He just got it out over the plate, a slider, to a good hitter. McCutchen is a good hitter. So, but other than that I told him, ‘You threw the ball great. Hopefully we come back and score some runs, but that was outstanding.’”

“I mean, I feel like I was one pitch away from being very good,” Ross said in assessing his own outing.

“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.”

What was he trying to do on the pitch to McCutchen, with runners on the corners and two out?

“It was an 0-0 slider, so I think we were shifting him over on the left side, trying to just get some weak contact, ground ball or something like that, just caught a little bit too much of the plate and he was ready for it,” Ross said.