Joe Ross might not pitch again for the Washington Nationals.
Manager Davey Martinez told reporters before Tuesday’s game in New York that the right-hander will have a second Tommy John surgery after being diagnosed with another partial tear of his right ulnar collateral ligament.
”He wants to get it repaired and fixed,” Martinez said. “Now it’s just — after the surgery, a whole lot of healing, and getting him ready, strengthening and getting him ready to get on the mound again as soon as possible.”
Over six seasons in Washington, Ross has pitched to a 4.26 ERA in 98 games, started 76, and compiled a 26-28 record. He’s struck out 406 batters while walking 141, relying on a hard, sinking fastball, a slider, and a changeup he and the team have been working on for years.
Now he is veteran pitcher with a World Series ring, facing an uncertain future after arriving in Washington in one of the most storied transactions in franchise history and coming back from Tommy John surgery to win a Nationals Park ovation for his spot start in Game 5 of the 2019 World Series.
Ross, 29, will become an unrestricted free agent in November after he completes the one-year, $2.4 million contract he signed before this season, avoiding arbitration.
There’s no guarantee that the Nats or any other team will offer him a major league contract with more than a year of rehabilitation ahead before he can throw again.
The news that Ross’s 2022 season was over came as the Nats prepared to play at Citi Field — where Ross last pitched in a Nats uniform on Aug. 11, 2021, throwing five innings of relief in a game that had been suspended the day before.
In that game, on his regular turn, Ross threw 82 pitches, allowing four runs on four hits with a walk and two strikeouts. Although he left with a 7-5 lead, the Mets would win 8-7.
On Aug. 16, Martinez announced that Ross had been diagnosed with a partial UCL tear, and two days later, he said Ross would avoid a second Tommy John surgery with a rest and rehab program that would have him back sometime this season.
Ross trained himself before the owners’ lockout which delayed the start of 2022 Spring Training, then missed much of it anyway after surgery to remove a bone spur from the elbow.
In his rehab start May 24 with Class AA Harrisburg, Ross threw two strong innings but was pulled after three innings and 31 pitches.
Martinez said coaches noticed his velocity was down in the third inning, and he complained of tightness in the elbow afterward.
An MRI revealed the tear, and Ross sought more opinions before opting on Wednesday to have Dr. Neal ElAttrache perform the procedure in Los Angeles, according to The Washington Post.
Ross arrived in Washington in 2014 in what might be the signature trade of general manager Mike Rizzo’s career.
The three-way deal sent Stephen Sousa Jr. to Tampa, Will Myers to San Diego, and Ross to the Nats with a player to be named later — who turned out to be shortstop Trea Turner.
Ross’s first career win came on June 13, 2015, an eight-inning gem at Milwaukee, where he allowed two runs on seven hits, striking out eight and walking one. He became one of the bright spots in a season where the Nats could not hold the NL East lead over the New York Mets, Jonathan Papelbon and Bryce Harper fought in the dugout, and manager Matt Williams was blamed for it all and fired.
Ross got off to a stellar start in 2016, winning his first three starts while allowing only two runs in April, striking out 14 and walking 7.
After that, he had hot and cold streaks until a July 2 start when manager Dusty Baker noticed a precipitous drop in velocity and pulled Ross after he was knocked around for four runs on 10 hits in 5 1⁄3 innings. He didn’t walk a batter but hit two men and had a wild pitch.
The next day, the Nats placed Ross on the injured list with right shoulder inflammation, and he did not pitch again in Washington until September, when the 95-win Nats were coasting to the NL East title.
Ross was healthy enough to start Game 4 of the NL Division Series with a chance to eliminate the Dodgers, but he was hit hard, starting with a two-run homer by Adrian Gonzalez in the first inning.
Ross was lifted with two outs in the third after walking the bases loaded following a go-ahead single, then letting in another run on a wild pitch.
Ross had another fast start in 2017, and like the year before, he kept the strikeouts up and the walks down, but now he was giving up home runs. In 13 starts, he allowed career-high 16, as many as in 2015 and 2016 combined.
The only game in which Ross didn’t give up a homer was an eight-inning, four-hit, 12-strikeout, no-walk performance in a rescheduled game against Baltimore.
Manager Dusty Baker pinned the problem on a drop in velocity, from an average of 94 mph on his fastball in 2016 to 92 in 2017.
On July 9, Ross was lifted in the third inning of a 10-5 win over Atlanta, complaining of right triceps tenderness, and Baker said he was down to 88 or 89 mph.
Ten days later, Ross was in surgery to replace a torn UCL.
He pitched just two games in 2018 after rehabbing, then had to work his way back into the starting rotation to become a key part of Nats’ staff in the 2019 World Series run.
Even with the back end of the rotation struggling during the Nats’ 19-31 start, Ross was consigned to the bullpen in April and May, then logged plenty of frequent flyer miles in June and July between Washington and it’s class AAA affiliate in Fresno, Calif.
But by July, Max Scherzer was missing starts with back issues that would dog him through the postseason, and Erick Fedde was struggling in the No. 5 spot. After the Nats traded for bullpen arms at the deadline, Ross became a starter again.
Starting with 5 1⁄3 one-hit, shutout innings in Arizona on Aug. 2, Ross helped the Nats win eight times as they went 36-17 in August and September. He compiled 3.02 ERA in nine starts down the stretch, including the first game of the Sept. 24 doubleheader when the Nats clinched a Wild Card berth.
Ross wasn’t on the Division Series or NLCS roster, but Martinez put him on the World Series roster because he had enough stamina to throw out of the bullpen on back-to-back days, making him the best choice for long or spot relief.
Ross’s World Series debut came in Game 3 of the 2019 Fall Classic, holding the powerful Houston Astros to one hit in two scoreless innings of a 4-1 loss.
But two days later, with the Series tied at two games apiece, Scherzer awoke in pain and unable to pitch, leaving Ross to start the pivotal contest.
Ross, a 2011 first-round draft pick by San Diego, was ultimately outdueled by the pitcher selected first overall that same year, Gerrit Cole, who had just finished a stellar three-year career at UCLA. As a high school star in Oakland, Ross had committed to the Bruins and would have played there had the Padres not selected him with the 25th pick.
A Nationals Park crowd that was surely disappointed not to be seeing Mad Max pitch in the World Series gave Ross a nice ovation as he took the mound, and an even bigger one as he jogged off after a 14-pitch, 1-2-3 first against the Astros.
The Astros’ power caught up to him in the second inning, when Yordan Alvarez took him deep after Yuli Gurriel’s single.
Ross had a perfect third inning before giving up another two-run homer to Carlos Correa in the fourth, then walked George Springer in the fifth, before inducing Jose Altuve to ground into a 4-6-3 double play.
Ross would leave the game with the Nats down 4-0 in a game they would lose 7-1 to put them on the brink of elimination.
The next time Ross took the field, though, he was joining the dogpile near the mound at Minute Maid Park, celebrating the Nats’ Game 7 World Series win while Cole stewed in the Astros’ bullpen and gruffly signaled his impending free agency.
On Tuesday after announcing the surgery, Martinez sounded like he wanted Ross back with the Nats.
“I’ve talked to him already about what his plans are after the surgery and I told him, I said, ‘I’d love to have you here, close,’ ” Martinez said.
“I know he’s got a guy in Dallas that he works with religiously, but I said I would love for you to come down here and be with the guys and get some work in here so we can keep eyes on you, but we feel like he’s a National, and right now he is a National, so we’re going to keep it that way.”
However, the reality of rehabbing after surgery as a free agent while the Nats continue to rebuild just might be what decides Ross’s fate.