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Ross steps up big-time, Harper keeps dazzling

Jun 14, 2015, 6:00 AM EDT


The Nationals really needed a win Saturday in Milwaukee. So, naturally, they turned to none other than Bryce Harper to lead the way at the plate. And, not so naturally, Joe Ross on the mound.

I mean, talk about an odd couple to carry you to victory. Harper, of course, we have come to expect to do these kinds of things (ie. reach base five times). But who could have imagined the member of the Nats’ vaunted rotation that would come up biggest when it was needed most would be Ross, the 22-year-old right-hander making his second career start?

Both performances were worth examining in greater detail, so let’s get right to it…

What exactly did Ross do? He pitched seven innings. Actually, he pitched eight, joining Scherzer and Zimmermann as the only two Nationals starters to go that deep so far this season.

But the completion of seven innings was newsworthy enough, because no member of the Nats rotation had been able to do that in any of the club’s last 10 games.

Ross was able to do it for one key reason: He threw strikes. A ton of them. Like, 77 of his 108 total pitches. Those 77 strikes tied for the fourth-most thrown by any Nationals starter this year, bested only by Scherzer (who has done it three times, though each time out of at least 110 pitches).

In fact, Ross did something no pitcher in Nationals history has ever done. He faced 51 total batters before issuing the first walk of his career, a new club record.

Ross has good stuff (his fastball averaged 92.7 mph Saturday and topped out at 94.5 mph). He throws strikes. He changes speeds. And he hasn’t appeared to be fazed by anything he’s faced so far since his surprise promotion from Class AA Harrisburg.

Ross may have been unknown to all but the most ardent Nationals fans, but he did come with a pedigree. He was the Padres’ first-round pick in the 2011 draft. His brother, Tyson, was an All-Star last season for San Diego. And now he could throw a bit of a wrench into the Nats’ pitching plans.

The assumption all along was that Ross would hold this rotation spot only until Doug Fister was ready to come off the disabled list. Well, it looks like Fister is ready to do just that after he threw six scoreless innings in a rehab start for Harrisburg on Friday night. But are the Nats really going to send Ross back down after a dominant performance like this?

There is another scenario that could unfold. Tanner Roark could potentially move back to the bullpen, a boost to the area of the Nationals’ roster that most needs a boost right now, and that would allow Ross to remain in the rotation a bit longer. He’d still wind up out of a job once Stephen Strasburg returns from the DL (which is likely to happen in the next two weeks). But he would have another couple of opportunities to start at the big-league level and prove that his performance Saturday was no fluke.

On the surface, that sounds impossible to believe, given the video-game-like numbers he posted in May to earn NL Player of the Month honors. But it’s true.

After hitting .360 with a .495 on-base percentage, .884 slugging percentage, 13 homers and 28 RBI in 26 games in May, Harper is now hitting .415 with a .520 on-base percentage, .732 slugging percentage, three homes and eight RBI through 12 games in June.

No, he’s not hitting for as much power. But he’s hitting for a much higher average and reaching base at a staggering 52 percent clip.

Those numbers were bolstered by Saturday’s game, in which Harper went 3-for-3 with a walk, a hit-by-pitch and two RBI. That’s five plate appearances and five times successfully reaching base.

Technically, Harper didn’t actually get to reach base in his final plate appearance. After taking a fastball just above his left knee in the top of the ninth, he was removed from the game. The preliminary report was that Harper was hit in the quadriceps muscle, not the knee itself, which would be a break for him and the club. Though until he shows up to the park Sunday, we won’t know for sure how severe (if at all) this injury is.

Regardless, Harper’s season just continues to wow everyone. He’s now hitting .343 with 21 homers, 51 RBI, a .479 on-base percentage and 1.204 OPS through 62 team games (61 individual games).

How impressive is that? Well, only eight players in MLB history have ever finished a season with an OPS of at least 1.204: Barry Bonds (four times), Babe Ruth (seven times), Ted Williams (twice), Rogers Hornsby, Lou Gehrig, Mark McGwire, Jimmy Foxx and Frank Thomas. Only 12 players have finished a season with an on-base percentage of at least .479: Ruth, Williams, Bonds, Hornsby, Thomas, Mickey Mantle, Tris Speaker, Edgar Martinez, Norm Cash, Arky Vaughn, Harry Heilmann and Ty Cobb.

  1. laddieblahblah - Jun 14, 2015 at 7:04 AM

    Right now, Bryce Harper is the best hitter I have ever seen. Period. Just stay healthy. And he is doing it with the aid of nothing more potent than soda pop, and, reportedly, an occasional cup of coffee.

    Span, Rendon and Escobar are getting on base ahead of Bryce now, and if Ramos/Espinsoa can finally give him some cover, the Nats offense will thrive. When Span and Tony get on base, the Nats score, and they win.

    Ross looks awfully good. Another absolute steal by Rizzo. For Souza, Mike not only got Turner, but Joe, too.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 14, 2015 at 7:30 AM

      “Just stay healthy” is the key. That spinal chord plunking set him back a few games to get back to 100% and hoping this quad/knee is nothing serious. He has a target on his back.

      Bonds wore that right elbow armour and if you came in on him he would protect himself by turning the elbow in.

      Bryce is as feared as anyone since the best days of Pujols where he had no weaknesses.

      • laddieblahblah - Jun 14, 2015 at 9:25 AM

        “Pujols where he had no weaknesses.”

        No hitting weaknesses – truly a generational talent. But even Pujols at his best was not as good a hitter as Harper is now. Just when you don’t think he can keep it up, he gets even better. And he doesn’t have to get pitches in the zone, either, just close is good enough for Bryce to square up.

        There is so much chatter in baseball about Harp going to the Yanks, or the Dodgers, or somewhere else. I hope he means it when he says he wants to remain with one team for his entire career. I can see him making Arnold Palmer/Jack Nicklaus/Tiger Woods/Michael Jordan kind of money from endorsements very soon, especially if he wins NL MVP. And who is going to beat him? He’s also a legit candidate to be the first player since Ducky Medwick to win the NL Triple Crown.

        He is already among the most popular baseball players around, if not the most popular. The kid can write his own ticket. Just stay healthy.

    • Section 222 - Jun 14, 2015 at 7:44 AM

      Let’s not forget that herbal chew. šŸ˜€

      • laddieblahblah - Jun 14, 2015 at 8:40 AM

        “herbal chew?”

        I thought he was gnawing on the facial remnants of the enemy.

      • ArVAFan - Jun 14, 2015 at 8:45 AM

        +1 to Laddie

      • virginiascopist - Jun 14, 2015 at 8:46 AM

        “I thought he was gnawing on the facial remnants of the enemy.”

        I guess he interpreted Werth’s “eat face” directive literally.

    • Just. Dave - Jun 14, 2015 at 8:30 AM

      I am not 100% certain that Harper is not on PEDs. Sorry but I’m being honest. I would not be surprised…

      • laddieblahblah - Jun 14, 2015 at 8:37 AM

        ” I would not be surprisedā€¦”

        I would. The guy has a workout regime worthy of a triathlete. Steroids? Steroids? He don’t need no stinkin’ steroids.

      • unkyd59 - Jun 14, 2015 at 8:46 AM

        Be certain, Dave… Remember, this kid was hitting it 500’…. when he was SIXTEEN! He’s a natural…. A natural freak of nature… šŸ˜œ

      • Doc - Jun 14, 2015 at 9:03 AM

        You’re not being honest Dave, you’re being ignorant!

        Honesty requires some credibility—show us the money!

      • Just. Dave - Jun 14, 2015 at 9:20 AM

        say it to my face Doc!

      • Dave - Jun 14, 2015 at 9:26 AM

        I speak as another Dave (who’s been here at NI since it was first a thing):

        That’s a hell of an accusation you made there, Just. Isn’t it possible that Harper really is good? Do you really have to go there?

      • zmunchkin - Jun 14, 2015 at 9:41 AM

        Next time you show up at a game, let NIers know and many of us who are at that game will be quite happy to say it to your face!

      • Doc - Jun 14, 2015 at 9:49 AM

        I’d be more than happy to say it to your lying face!

      • Just. Dave - Jun 14, 2015 at 9:58 AM

        I did not Say anything other than I am not 100% certain. Laddie stated a fact of which he cannot be certain. So calling me a liar really doesn’t follow. Others who have put up similar numbers in the last 30 years were ‘roiders, so I am suspicious when a guy puts up such big stats.

        Time will tell. Hopefully he is another Mantle and not another Bonds.

      • stoatva - Jun 14, 2015 at 10:24 AM

        I suppose you’re “not sure” about Trout, either?


      • Joe Seamhead - Jun 14, 2015 at 10:49 AM

        Bryce Harper has put up huge numbers in MLB, the minors, JUCO, high school, and all the way back to Little League, and he was always a big guy. I think that even alluding to the possibility without anything more than what you are offering as a reason is more a reason for me to wonder what it is that you might be smoking. Totally unfounded accusation like that is just flat out offensive and slanderous.

      • natsguy - Jun 14, 2015 at 10:14 AM

        Clown comment bro. He is a devout Mormon. Really clown comment. Jeez I don’t mind being pragmatic, but that is just nuts.

      • rabbit433 - Jun 14, 2015 at 11:49 AM

        laddie, I sure hope you’re right. But, in today’s world, especially sports, nothing should surprise us any more.

    • ehay2k - Jun 14, 2015 at 8:49 AM

      I was chatting with someone yesterday about just how good the Nats scouting department is. Kudos to Rizzo for that too, since he made big changes there as soon as he became GM. The Gio deal was pretty good. The Fister deal was great, and the Clippard-Escobar deal looks better every day. But the Souza-Ross-Turner deal looks positively criminal.

      • laddieblahblah - Jun 14, 2015 at 8:58 AM

        “just how good the Nats scouting department is.”

        They are really, really good. And the player development staff ain’t far behind. When I read that Stevenson’s coach thought he would be a better hitter as a pro than he was as a collegian, should he wind up with a team that could rework his hitting mechanics, I just knew Rizzo and his brain trust were thinking the same thing.

        They seldom miss, but they appear to have missed with Johansson. Not all the talent evaluators were on board for that guy, though. Can’t win ’em all, but their batting average is pretty good.

        Really anticipating something good out of Stevenson after the guys in Viera get through with him.

      • Doc - Jun 14, 2015 at 9:08 AM

        With thinner draft opportunities, scouting major, minor, and amateur will be the key. Unheralded heroes IMHO.

      • laddieblahblah - Jun 14, 2015 at 9:10 AM

        Johansen’s line from Potomac last night – 5 batters faced, not one of them retired, 5 runs given up, 3 of them earned – ERA sitting at 6.18

        Jake Johansen 0.0 1 5 3 3 0 0 6.18

        Ross pitched 8 last night at the ML level, with somewhat better results.

        The Nats just do not give up on young arms. Sammy Solis pitched 2 scoreless, hitless innings last night, and Matt Purke got his first win as a starter not so long ago. Matt Purke. Talk about a guy with perseverance and grit, and tons of bad luck with his throwing arm. If he ever makes it to the bigs they should nail a plaque somewhere in Nats park as a testimonial to his perseverance. He probably has a better chance than Johansen.

      • NatsLady - Jun 14, 2015 at 10:26 AM

        Don’t forget Ramos for Matt Capps and Span for Alex Meyer (who looks destined for the bullpen, right now).

      • ehay2k - Jun 14, 2015 at 11:49 AM

        Yep, missed those but you are correct. A lot of people here were logging for Bourne or, gasp, Revere, over Span.

    • Toot D. Blan - Jun 14, 2015 at 8:51 AM

      Soda pop, coffee…and whatever that “herbal” stuff is that he’s chewing.

    • rlndtln - Jun 14, 2015 at 10:52 AM

      You must be very young if a 65 game season makes Harp who I love the best hitter you have ever seen.

  2. Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 14, 2015 at 7:32 AM

    My notes from last night:

    Ross has made his power sinker his go-to pitch and itā€™s very good and he has a late breaking slider that could rank as best on the Nats, yes, best on the Nats. The changeup needs work and is the pitch he needs to be a top of the rotation starter. The changeup wasnā€™t good in his 1st start and was worse in this start.

    I’m always concerned with scouting reports and Joe Cool could get another start on Thursday vs Tampa.

    • Nats Fan Zee - Jun 14, 2015 at 9:52 AM

      My notes from last night:

      Once again, Matt Williams kept a starter in too long … This time he got away with it.

  3. MicheleS - Jun 14, 2015 at 7:59 AM

    Thoroughly enjoyed listening to Charlie and Dave yesterday on this one, plan on watching the replay today. Ross looks like a keeper (and lord knows the bullpen needed the rest).

    also hopefully today is Happy Trea Turner Day!!!!!

    • ehay2k - Jun 14, 2015 at 8:54 AM

      Did you hear the entire discussion on deciding which player should be charged for an error in different circumstances? It was classic radio baseball and one of the many reasons I love listening to baseball on the radio, where the gaps between plays have to be filled with commentary, which is sometimes great. I don’t think you will ever hear that on TV.

    • Dave - Jun 14, 2015 at 9:31 AM

      We had the TV picture synced to Charlie and Dave via At Bat and our DVR. My wife commented on how long they talked about the error. I replied that they were filling time by talking about baseball, not showing pictures of the Brewers mascots on the concourses.

      Radio rules!

      • natsdial8 - Jun 14, 2015 at 10:39 AM

        Can you expand how you sync ? Not listening to FP would make the games so much more enjoyable.

      • Joe Seamhead - Jun 14, 2015 at 10:52 AM

        My son does it with Tune In Radio. I’ll ask him how he syncs it.

      • Dave - Jun 14, 2015 at 12:59 PM

        You have to have a DVR that allows you to pause live TV. The audio on At Bat is always delayed anywhere from 20-30 seconds up to the better part of a minute. That’s what makes this possible.

        With the audio playing, pause your DVR picture at the exact second you see a ball hit by a bat or strike the catcher’s mitt. Wait for the moment when the radio guys announce this particular pitch coming. (“Here comes the 2-0.”) When you hear the impact of the ball on the radio, press play on your DVR.

        That’s basically it. You might need to use a combination of very short fast-fowards or very short pauses to get it perfectly in sync, but with practice and patience you can get it to a reasonable degree of precision within about an inning or so.

      • Dave - Jun 14, 2015 at 1:04 PM

        PS: I always plug my iPad in to some nice computer speakers when I turn the TV sound down. It makes for a very good experience. (I don’t use my phone because I get that annoying cell phone interference in the audio circuit sometimes.)

        I use this a lot during the playoffs or when Fox has a game on and the TV announcers are insufferable. I hear Jon Miller call the Giants and Vin Scully call the Dodgers this way. Detroit also has very good radio guys, but I can’t recall their names right now.

        It’s truly a life-changing technique if you’re a baseball fan. At Bat is far and away the best smartphone app I have ever downloaded.

  4. Section 222 - Jun 14, 2015 at 8:05 AM

    Let’s take a look at Bryce’s slashline: .328/.494/.569/1.062. Incredible. MVP quality. Oh wait, THAT’S AGAINST LEFTIES!

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 14, 2015 at 8:13 AM

      He’s taking his walks and making them throw him strikes.

  5. Another_Sam - Jun 14, 2015 at 8:21 AM

    Is Bryce the most frequently plunked National?

    • Joe Seamhead - Jun 14, 2015 at 8:39 AM

      I think he is tied with Desmond and Espinosa at 3 times. Anthony Arizona has been hit 14 times!

      • rabbit433 - Jun 14, 2015 at 11:56 AM

        I don’t know why Desmond would get plunked a lot. He’s usually only up there for three or four pitches before STRIKE-THREE!

  6. veejh - Jun 14, 2015 at 8:26 AM

    Heard Ross’ name tossed around for Chapman. Is it really going to take more than Ross after a performance like that?

    • ArVAFan - Jun 14, 2015 at 8:33 AM

      If Ross can go 8 innings, who needs Chapman? Oh, wait, Ross can’t pitch every day. Darn.

      But I do think I’ll try to track down a ball from his Nats Park debut. Hope that this is the beginning of a good career, and not just a flash in the pan.

    • rlndtln - Jun 14, 2015 at 10:55 AM

      Stras for Chapman.Keep Ross.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 14, 2015 at 5:38 PM

        While you feel that way, have to see how Stras comes back and allow Ross more starts. If you use Mike Wright as a comp, he threw 2 shutouts and then has scuffled his last 3 starts.

        I know people want to use small sample sizes and I like Ross but right now he’s a 2 pitch pitcher and that concerns me. He’s got a sinker that works with a filthy slider but he has to get that changeup working to really dominate. Could he continue what he did yesterday, yes. I just wouldn’t throw Strasburg to the scrap heap yet and the Reds would jump at that trade.

  7. rayvil01 - Jun 14, 2015 at 9:14 AM

    I’m thinking that they need a new rule in baseball: If you hit a batter and the result is that the batter has to leave the game, so does the pitcher. It’s just a “Strict Liability” approach where intent is irrelevant. There should be some accountability.

    It doesn’t happen all that often. But, Bryce is a big target in a game where you’re losing 7-2 in the eighth inning. Low to no consequence for hitting him and there’s a chance he misses the next game. This situation is going to repeat itself as the season goes on and Bryce keeps lighting it up.

    • Another_Sam - Jun 14, 2015 at 9:21 AM

      You’re not serious? A little thought and you can see how this proposed rule is unworkable.

      Yesterday’s plunking was in the top of the ninth. Classy to not replunk anyone in the bottom of the inning.

      • rayvil01 - Jun 14, 2015 at 9:39 AM

        It won’t happen. But, you don’t you think they should have thrown out Fiers last year when he got Giancarlo in the face? What they ask the umpire to do is discern intent. If a batter is on the ground spitting out teeth, who cares about intent? The consequence was significant. I think a pitcher should have some liability for that. Getting thrown out of the game is a pretty small penalty in comparison.

      • Section 222 - Jun 14, 2015 at 9:57 AM

        No, I don’t think they should have thrown out Fiers. He was clearly devastated by the incident. Clearly didn’t do it on purpose. What would be the point? Deterrence? Wouldn’t matter. Retribution? For what?

    • laddieblahblah - Jun 14, 2015 at 9:33 AM

      I don’t think it was deliberate. Even the other players are beginning to recognize that Harper is not just a generational talent, he is also becoming the face of ML baseball. What is good for Harper is good for the game, and what is good for the game is good for everyone in it. Look at what Palmer, Nicklaus, Woods did for golf, and what Jordan did for basketball. Bryce could do that for baseball.

      Even for a cynical old baseball junkie like me, Harper is too compelling to miss, even for just one of his ABs.

  8. topnat - Jun 14, 2015 at 9:32 AM

    Ok I must ask after reading it here so often. Exactly what is the need for Chapman and why would you trade a potential stud starter like Ross , who could be the replacement for jzimm, fister or stras?

    • zmunchkin - Jun 14, 2015 at 9:47 AM

      Especially since he is, I think, a free agent after this year. So Joe Ross for a rental does not make much sense IMO.

      • virginiascopist - Jun 14, 2015 at 10:43 AM

        If you mean Chapman, I am fairly certain he is not a free agent until the end of next year, so it would be a year-and-a-half rental. But I personally still can’t see Rizzo making that deal.

  9. scnatsfan - Jun 14, 2015 at 10:41 AM

    Guys please, don’t give the O’s trolls the time of day. They post for reactions and the more people that engage them the happier they are.

  10. ArVAFan - Jun 14, 2015 at 10:49 AM

    Oh, and ICYMI: Joe Ross did get the chocolate sauce treatment from Scherzer in the clubhouse.

  11. Joe Seamhead - Jun 14, 2015 at 10:57 AM

    Another tidbit regarding the trade that brought Joe Ross and Trea Turner to the Nats: in addition to Steven Sousa, the Nats also threw in a low level pitcher from Shippensburg, PA named Travis Ott. I can’t find one thing about where and what Travis Ott has done in Pads farm system this year.

    • Joe Seamhead - Jun 14, 2015 at 11:00 AM

      Opps, or even the Rays system, which is where he went to. Sorry. Anyway, he seems to have vanished.

      • virginiascopist - Jun 14, 2015 at 11:08 AM

        I think I read somewhere he has not pitched yet for the Rays system this year — don’t know why.

    • zshurs - Jun 14, 2015 at 11:17 AM

      He went to Tampa with Souza, so he’s in their farm system. He’s only 19, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they assign him to their Short Season team. I don’t think that season has started yet.

  12. rayvil01 - Jun 14, 2015 at 11:27 AM

    I had heard the Mets ran Dillon Gee to the bullpen and scrapped the 6-man rotation idea. But, he’s starting today against the Braves. Lefties are lighting him up.

    • virginiascopist - Jun 14, 2015 at 11:56 AM

      Apparently, they plan to use Gee in the rotation as a spot starter in weeks where they have an off day, but out of the bullpen in weeks where there are no off days. Makes little sense to me, but I guess we’ll see if it works out. As inconsistent as Gee is, I’m not sure he would have been much help yesterday, but as it was, their bullpen coughed up the lead and, ultimately, the game.

    • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 14, 2015 at 12:02 PM

      Really. What is up with that. Who’s out or are they back to a 6 man rotation.

  13. Joe Seamhead - Jun 14, 2015 at 11:47 AM

    Harper getting hit replay:

    It didn’t look intentional to me at all. But regardless, I’ll guarantee you that hurt like hell.

    • ITGSOT - Jun 14, 2015 at 12:00 PM

      He’s not in the lineup today.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jun 14, 2015 at 12:03 PM

        From Mark: “Harper not playing after getting hit by pitch in knee yesterday + Werth, Zimmerman on DL + Ramos day off = Strangest lineup of year.”



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