As the Washington Nationals sent Joe Ross packing for a week until he is needed, there is more to this story than a number crunch.
Sure, he team does not need a fifth starter until April 9. Yes, with Michael Taylor’s father passing, the Nats get to give him an extra week to show his value. Wilmer Difo goes through the pomp and circumstance of Opening Day and Washington carries an extra bat. All the above is true and Ross has options to burn.
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The move is still a shot across Ross’ bow.
During last year’s Winter Meetings, comments made about Ross’ injury and endurance exposed the Nats are not clear about his future. Although not traded, his starting the season with Triple-A Syracuse instead of with the big club does little to settle those internal doubts.
If the Nats are worried about him missing a start, at some point this week there will be a need for a long reliever. Remember, Jeremy Guthrie did not make the team and Vance Worley signed a minor-league deal elsewhere. For the Miami Marlins series, Ross was an option.
Instead, he will start a game for Syracuse before starting his regular load with the big club.
Since Washington rarely airs dirty laundry in public—in a city known for leaking everything—it is impossible to know where the problem is. Again, the reasons listed earlier are real. But, they should not be taken at face value.
Ross throws a lot of pitches. With the movement he needs to fool hitters, it is inevitable. Because he is not efficient, his ceiling is as a fourth or fifth starter. Six innings a game is a good night. Injuries last year cut him to under five a start.
Although he pitched well in Florida, he is still a feel pitcher who relies heavily on contact and location. This is the pitcher who can wear out a bullpen over multiple bad starts.
His potential is there. In 32 career starts, Ross has an ERA of 3.52 and an Adjusted ERA+ of 116. Those numbers are above average.
Whether the Nationals feel he did not work hard enough this spring or are conflicted about him demoting him before the season begins is unusual for a player expected to start 30 games.
The logic behind the math is solid for demotion, but the reasons do not fully add up. How they handle Ross when his 2017 MLB season gets underway is worth keeping an eye on.