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Ross shines, but pulled early for innings limit

Aug 28, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT

USA Today

The Nationals alluded to the limitations they were ready to apply on starter Joe Ross on Tuesday, as the rookie is already in uncharted territory in terms of innings pitched this season. Tanner Roark was sent to Single-A Potomac to stretch out his arm with the plan to return in September and take Ross’ rotation spot. Ross was essentially declared a few starts away from working towards 2016.

If those plans weren’t already clear, they certainly are after Thursday night. Ross was brilliant through six innings of work against the Padres, allowing zero earned runs through six innings with just one hit allowed. But despite throwing only 77 pitches, the right-hander was removed before the seventh as manager Matt Williams decided to go to his bullpen much earlier than he normally would.

The Nats were up, but only by a runs in what was a 2-1 game at the time. Yet in came Casey Janssen to pitch the seventh inning.

“The fact that we added one, and we got two in [the fifth inning] and we could get him out of there after the sixth, it was good for him. It’ll just help him stretch through his next starts,” Williams explained.

Given the lead and a few fresh arms in the back of his bullpen, Williams saw it as an opportunity to get Ross out of one early.

Tonight’s an indication that he’s still feeling okay,” he said. “If we can limit that and get ourselves in a position to win ballgames, then we want to try to do that. Again, each game will dictate what we can and can’t do.”

Ross understands the Nats’ intentions for him this season, but was not aware he would be going out so soon on this particular night.

“I wasn’t really expecting it. But a call to the bullpen, that’s not really my decision. It’s fine with me, I guess,” he said.

Ross finished with one unearned run, seven strikeouts and two walks in his six innings of work. It was another impressive outing in a growing collection of them for the Nats rookie.

Eight of Ross’ 11 career games have been quality starts. In seven of those he has allowed two runs or fewer. That includes his previous start, on Aug. 22 against Milwaukee, when Ross pitched seven innings of one-run ball with zero walks.

Thursday night just happened to come against his former team, a San Diego Padres club that could very much use a 22-year-old standout who holds a 3.24 ERA as a rookie. After all, any team could.

“He’s got really good stuff, good composure, doesn’t show much emotion on the mound,” Ryan Zimmerman said. “He goes out there with a plan and executes. It’s been fun to watch. We’ve enjoyed watching him kind of grow up and become a pitcher at this level. He’s got a pretty high ceiling.”

Ross hit some bumps along the road earlier in August when he gave up nine earned runs in 8 2/3 total innings across two starts in Los Angeles and San Francisco. But he has rebounded convincingly in the time since.

Ross credits commanding his fastball on the inside of the plate, in particular, as something that has made him especially effective as of late.

“It opens up the outside half of the plate for sure. And it really keeps them from leaning out over the plate, which is probably the biggest thing, to keep them honest. It opens up the outside corner for the bullpen later in the game. That’s kind of something I’ve been trying to work on the past couple games,” he said.

The fastball also helped set up his slider on Thursday night, he explained:

“It felt pretty good. I think for the first couple I felt like it snapped out of my fingers. It was a good pitch throughout the night, especially later on the second and third time through the lineup.”

Ross is now at 142 2/3 innings on the season, which is over 20 innings more than he’s ever pitched in a given year. Last season he threw 121 2/3 innings in the minors and the season before he finished with 122 1/3.

Exactly how far the Nats will push Ross before Roark takes his place has not been outlined publicly. But Ross will be ready for whatever they decide to do.

“I guess I’ll go out and keep throwing until they tell me that I’m done,” he said.

  1. erocks33 - Aug 28, 2015 at 10:28 AM

    Sad about Denard. Am also afraid that MAT will be out for awhile, too. Now, let’s see if Trader Mike can work his magic and get CarGo from Colorado. Put him in right, Werth in left and Bryce in center.

    • coop202 - Aug 28, 2015 at 10:44 AM

      Think about how different life would be if cespedes played for the Nats and not the mets… I’m still pretty bitter that the one player I wanted at the deadline went to NY

  2. Section 222 - Aug 28, 2015 at 10:31 AM

    Good for Joe. A bright spot in a disappointing season.

    The Nats have now completed 126 games. That’s seven of the nine 18-game sets in the season. They’ve had two really bad sets this year – they went 7-11 to open the season. And they went 7-11 in the first full 18-gamer after the ASG, including being swept at Citi Field by their main rival for the NL East crown this year, the Mets. After the first 18 games, Dan Uggla’s now legendary blast in Atlanta turned the season around and started a 12-6 bounceback stretch. After the completion of the 6th 18-game set, the loss to Colorado on August 7 in the first game of the series at Nats Park, they were 2 1/2 games behind the Mets. So they needed a similar quick turnaround to start the last third of the season.

    Unfortunately, they didn’t get it. Instead they gave us in some ways the most frustrating stretch of the year. Failing to win a series against the bottom-feeding Rockies at home, then the disastrous visits to LA and SF and a 6 game losing streak. Then winning three series in a row for the first time this year, but against teams that needed to yield a sweep (or two) if they were to mount a serious comeback (the Rockies, Brewers, and Padres). Last night’s win just brought us to 8-10 for the set.

    Unfortunately, this lackluster performance came at a time when the Mets were on fire, going 12-6 in their 6th 18-gamer. And so we go into the last 36 games of the season 6 1/2 games behind the division leaders. At this point, we don’t control our own destiny. Not only do the Nats need to catch fire, but the Mets need to stumble. Last night was the perfect example of the situation we’re in. A very nice win, leaving aside the injuries, but we gain no ground because the Mets won too. The MMN is now 30.

    Bryce Harper’s play during this set was anything but lackluster, except perhaps in comparison to how he played in the previous 108 games. His slashline in the 17 games he played in this stretch was just .333/.442/.508/.949, with 2 HRs and 12 walks. After the game on August 16, his OPS for the year fell below 1.100 for the first time since May 6. Come on Bryce, we really need you to pick it up and bring home the MVP award. That may be the only thing Nats fans will be able to rejoice about at the end of this season.

    • npb99 - Aug 28, 2015 at 11:15 AM

      Good point on Bryce. If the team doesn’t get hot, all we’ll have left is rooting for his stats.

    • abqnatsfan - Aug 28, 2015 at 11:42 AM

      That 8-10 really has hurt. Thanks for doing these periodic reviews. As the season has progressed, they have been helpful in getting past the single games we live and die by and seeing trends and hope as they rise and fall.

      I’ll watch till the end, and try to enjoy, but like write about Harper, it is starting to be about trying to enjoy good glimpses and individual stories.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Aug 28, 2015 at 12:03 PM

      222: Thanks. The numbers are sobering.

    • therealjohnc - Aug 28, 2015 at 12:21 PM

      Technically the Nats DO control their own destiny – if the Nationals win out, they would finish 100-62. Because that would require six wins over the Mets, the best that the Mets could then finish the season would be … 100-62. Which would require the teams to play a one game playoff at Nats Park (since the Nats would own the season series) to settle the NL East.

      So no, technically, the Nats are not counting on anyone else’s support. It sure would be helpful, though.

    • gzheng2015 - Aug 28, 2015 at 2:06 PM

      Thanks for the numbers.

  3. zmunchkin - Aug 28, 2015 at 11:15 AM

    A 30% increase over last year is about 158 innings. So that leaves him about 16 innings. So depending on how comfortable the Nats feel with getting him to that level, he has two, maybe 3 starts left. To get him to 3 starts would likely mean at least a game or two where he only pitches 5 or 6 innings.

  4. Theophilus T.S. - Aug 28, 2015 at 11:47 AM

    Ross’s pitches per inning are probably lower than any other pitcher in the rotation. So maybe his innings don’t count as much as everybody else’s. I’m not sure I believe that but, if the choice is between letting him go 155 innings (Strasburg, approx.) or 160, that might persuade them to extend him a little. The kid is a revelation. He pitches relaxed, clearly understands his craft at 24 better than a lot of 30-year olds. I would take him over Syndergard at this point, or the post-surgery Harvey, who exhibits some command issues though he may be better next year. Although he hasn’t faced any team twice (to my recollection) there’s plenty of video on him around the league and teams seem unable to cope with first-pitch strikes, no free passes, a 95 mph FB that moves and a wicked slider. The change needs work but he’ll have it by the time Spring Training rolls around and he’ll end up being the best thing the Nats take away from this season.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Aug 28, 2015 at 11:56 AM

      +1

    • Section 222 - Aug 28, 2015 at 11:57 AM

      That’s quite a comparison Theo. So if the Mets called tomorrow (or at the end of the season since they’re all getting shut down) and said, Mike, we want Joe Ross and you can have your pick of Harvey or Syndergaard, you’d say, “no thanks.”

      Wow.

      I like Joe alot. But not that much.

      • coop202 - Aug 28, 2015 at 12:16 PM

        I’d say no to Noah.

      • Theophilus T.S. - Aug 28, 2015 at 2:40 PM

        I prefer the Joe Ross pitching this week to the Harvey pitching this week. We’ll see how Harvey is next spring.

        Yes I wouldn’t take Syndergaard. Control, command, understanding of what he is doing out there — not to mention the FB and slider combination — make Ross my choice.

    • langleyclub - Aug 28, 2015 at 12:04 PM

      I’m sure that the Nats are well aware of both Ross’s innings and # of pitches. Agree that his efficiency might cause the Nats to extend him a little, but the decision will also depend on where the Nats are in 10 days. If they are still 6.5+ out with 15 to play; I could see shutting Ross down even if they think his arm is not stressed. If the Mets finally falter and are making up ground, Ross may stay around for a couple of extra starts.

      Kind of funny that MW was criticized for not lining up Max for the Mets series when Ross pitched in Citi Field (and pitched great). In retrospect, Ross has been the better pitcher since the ASB.

      • Section 222 - Aug 28, 2015 at 12:16 PM

        Not only could I see them shutting him down at that point, but I would be very upset if they don’t. Ross is a valuable asset. You don’t waste him on a purely theoretical chance of winning the division.

    • npb99 - Aug 28, 2015 at 12:17 PM

      “The best thing the Nats take away from this season.”
      I’d say one of the two best, the other being Harper’s great season.

      • Theophilus T.S. - Aug 28, 2015 at 2:44 PM

        Not to quibble but Harper’s season has been expected — for the past three years. Ross is in his first season in the organization, is probably a half-season, at least, ahead of schedule for the major leagues, and looks like an unexpected (likely) fixture for the next seven seasons.

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