Sep 8, 2015, 5:56 PM EDT
Joe Ross won’t start another game for the Nationals this season, but he’ll still get opportunities to pitch out of the bullpen over the next four weeks while Tanner Roark takes his spot in the rotation.
Sensing their rookie right-hander was showing signs of fatigue as his innings count built up beyond levels from his previous seasons in the minors, the Nationals decided to pull him from their rotation now. Ross won’t be shut down completely, though, with team officials confident he can make occasional, brief appearances out of the bullpen the rest of the month.
“He’s at a point now that he’s never been to,” manager Matt Williams said. “Little bit fatigued in that regard, so to ask him to go out every fifth day and pitch six innings would be unfair to him. But he’s able to pitch out of the bullpen. Come in for an inning where needed and continue to pitch that way and experience it.”
Ross, 22, has thrown 73 2/3 innings in 13 big-league starts, going 5-5 with a 3.79 ERA. He also made 14 combined starts between Class AA Harrisburg and Class AAA Syracuse, totaling 76 innings.
The young hurler impressed the Nationals with his performance and poise, but his last two starts were noticeably different. After posting a 65-to-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio in his first 11 outings, he struck out only three while walking nine over his last two appearances. His velocity also dipped over the weekend against the Braves.
“The last start anyway, he was feeling pretty fatigued,” Williams said. “I think it was evident by what we saw.”
Though there was speculation the Nationals would shut down Ross entirely, as they’ve done with other young pitchers, general manager Mike Rizzo was comfortable letting him continue to pitch an inning or two at a time out of the bullpen.
“We always were cognizant of his limitations and where we wanted to be with him,” Rizzo said. “But Joe’s situation is different than an injured or rehabbing player. He’s a healthy pitcher that, because of his youth and because of his workload in the past, we have stringent configurations on what we do with those type of pitchers. …
“With the escalation that he’s had, starting in Double-A and getting here to pitch meaningful innings for us, we felt that it was time to get flipped to the bullpen, to get him through the last month of the season, which he’s never been through before, and give him a taste of what it’s like to play through a full major-league season.”
Roark now will take Ross’ rotation spot, likely starting Saturday in Miami. The right-hander, who has shuttled between the rotation and bullpen this season, started Friday night against the Braves but was pulled after only 4 1/3 innings and 69 pitches. Williams said he would be good to throw roughly 90-to-95 pitches now.
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