With high expectations heading into 2017, Washington Nationals starter Joe Ross starts his training program for what he hopes will be a full year in the rotation.
The 23-year-old starter recognizes this and has started his offseason throwing program to prepare for Spring Training, per MLB.com’s Jamal Collier.
Ross, entering his third season with the Nats, missed time the last two seasons. Fatigue after 16 games affected his 2015 season while a prolonged arm injury limited him to 19 starts and 105 regular season innings last year.
Frustrated with his recovery time, the Nats leaked to MASN before the Winter Meetings whether they thought Ross was serious enough in rehabbing his injury. At the time that rare statement from the club sounding disappointment made you wonder if the pitcher would move away.
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When the Chris Sale trade fell through, Ross’ status on the 2017 squad changed. They need him. He also needs to show everyone what he can do, especially after a disappointing playoff start. With high hopes, the Los Angeles Dodgers knocked him out of Game 4 of the National League Divisional Series in the third inning.
As bad of a taste as the series left in everyone’s mouth, no one player still with the club felt it more than Ross. Touched for three hits, walks, a hit batter and four earned runs in 15 batters, his playoff debut turned into a nightmare.
Ross, when healthy, is a capable pitcher. In 35 career games with the Nationals, he is 12-10 with a 3.52 ERA. In 181.2 innings, he whiffed 162, posted an ERA+ of 116 and a WHIP of 1.222. For a fourth starter, you take those numbers and run. Surpassing Gio Gonzalez on the depth chart, the only place Ross can go from here is up.
But, he must stay healthy and focused.
According to FanGraphs, he mixed his 83-mph slider more often with his 93-mph fastball last year. Now tossing 39 percent sliders and a hard 87-mph changeup almost 8.8 percent of the time, he relies on that fastball 52.2 percent.
If the 2016 arm injury resulted from a percentage increase of sliders—roughly four percent over 2015—then expect the fastball and change to feature more.
Starting his offseason program—and having the team publicize it—is a good sign whatever mixed feelings the two sides felt after last season are forgotten. The focus turns to getting back to the playoffs this season. Along with Tanner Roark, the nervousness of a first playoff start is gone now. They are playoff veterans.
As the potential fourth starter, Ross finds himself with the expectations of 30 starts and 180 innings. If he can do that, it will be a good year in DC.