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Washington Nationals’ Joe Ross returns with five scoreless; thinks he’s good to go down stretch...

Pitching for the first time since July 4th, Joe Ross looked sharp against the Phillies in Citizens Bank Park...

Washington Nationals v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Before taking the mound last night, Joe Ross hadn’t actually pitched in a game since back on July 4th. Inflammation in his right elbow after that outing landed Ross on the 10-Day IL, and he was out for 22 days, but the Washington Nationals’ brass decided against sending their 28-year-old right-hander out on a rehab assignment. Davey Martinez, in his pregame Zoom call with reporters on Sunday, explained that they didn’t want to waste any pitches from Ross in minor league games since they are handling him carefully this year, after he opted out of pitching in 2020’s 60-game COVID campaign.

“We had him throw a few extended bullpens,” Martinez explained, “... his arm felt good, the doctors OK’d him. He didn’t miss a whole lot of time. We had guys stand in in his last bullpen session, right-handed and left-handed hitters, he was pounding the strike zone, he looked good, he said his body felt good, so for me we want to get back out there as soon as we can.

“We often talk about Joe, because he missed all of last year, and about how much we can get out of him this year. I talked to [Pitching Coach Jim] Hickey, I talked to him about just if he went down on a rehab assignment, we’re kind of just wasting bullets, there’s only so many innings and we got to be careful about how many innings he does pitch. So he feels like he’s ready to go, so we’re going to get him out there, there’s going to be no limitations on him tomorrow and we’ll see how far he can take us.”

Washington Nationals v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

“We’ll keep an eye on him,” Martinez reiterated on Monday afternoon, when asked if Ross would be limited in any way, “... but I don’t want to put any limitations to him.

“He threw an extensive bullpen his last [outing] so we’ll see how far he can takes us.

Over the next two months, the Nationals will be watching Ross closely, to look for signs of fatigue, as they decide how far they can take him this season.

“We’re going to be very cautious of his workload here coming up,” Martinez said, “but he’s worked really hard and you can see that. He’s put the time in. He spent last year, he says, he took some time off, but he got right back on the mound at the end of the year, and started building up again, and other than this little stint that he just had, he’s thrown the ball fairly well, so but you know, he’s the future of ours, so we got to make sure we don’t push him to the brink, we got to keep an eye on him and we’ll determine when that is.

“But right now, he says he feels good, he’s getting an opportunity to start today, so we’ll just play it by ear and keep an eye on him, as many starts as we can get out of him we will, but he’ll dictate and the medical staff will dictate when that time comes.”

Ross looked good again in his return to the rotation, throwing five scoreless against the NL East rival Philadelphia Phillies over which he gave up three hits and two walks, with four Ks from the 20 batters he faced in a 72-pitch outing in what ended up a 6-5, walk-off loss.

Martinez said afterwards they got what they wanted out of Ross in his first start back.

“That was it. We wanted about 75 pitches, and he threw the ball well, I could see his arm slot starting to drop just a tad, and like I said, we just got him back and I want to be extra careful with him.”

Ross talked after the outing about the elbow issue that landed him on the IL and how he feels going forward.

“I just felt extra sore after that last start, July 4th,” Ross said, “but yeah, I wouldn’t say it was like something I had really been dealing with, but I just kind of didn’t feel right after that game, could have been 11:00 AM, kind of a tough start, you never really know, but I feel a lot better now, and I think just a little rest kind of got me where I needed to be.”

MLB: Washington Nationals at Philadelphia Phillies Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

And how did he feel coming out of the start in Citizens Bank Park?

“I felt really good,” Ross told reporters. “Fatigued a little bit towards the end, which I kind of was expecting, not really doing a rehab stint, per se. But overall, I felt really good, stuff felt good, fastball command was good, got away from me a little bit there at the end hitting [Jean] Segura, but slider was pretty good. Wasn’t quite finding the zone with it as much as I would have like against righties, but I feel like I had pretty good action consistently, and gave us a chance to win. I was kind of laughing to myself, the hardest base hit I gave up was to the pitcher, which, still kicking myself about, but otherwise I felt really good, so glad to be back.”

With the time off the mound in game action over the last few weeks, will he be good to go the rest of way?

“I still feel good,” Ross said, “obviously, maybe not going 7-8 innings every game, I’m not quite at that point in my career I don’t think. But otherwise I feel good, I feel strong, I felt good tonight.

“I don’t really expect myself to have any more setbacks, per se, but without pitching last year I feel like it was kind of inevitable at some point I was going to need a little break, so I’m kind of glad I got that out of the way and obviously don’t have too much baseball left, as we are in the second-half already, but I feel pretty ready to go.”