A second stint with the Syracuse Chiefs did wonders for Washington Nationals pitcher Joe Ross. How will he build on his Tuesday win?
In eight strong innings against the Seattle Mariners, Ross showed the National League what he worked on in his second stint this year with Triple-A Syracuse. Having massive run support helped, but his economy of pitches kept hitters off balance in a steady drizzle all night.
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Early, the fastball popped the radar guns at 94, but eventually it settled in the low-90s with good movement. He pitched to contact, relying on his good infielders to make plays when runners reached.
For a pitcher who struggled in his last few starts to get into the fifth at 75 pitches, this was the Ross we were waiting to see. In 101 pitches, he threw a whopping 68 strikes. As he labored in the sixth and seventh, he fanned the side in the eighth. Scattering five hits, he walked nobody.
In seven previous games from a fifth starter this year, including Ross, the ERA topped eight. On Tuesday, a sixth-inning solo shot from Seattle catcher Mike Zunino was the lone Mariner run of the game. For one night, Ross did not look the part of a back end starter.
Getting recalled for Tuesday was a mild surprise. When the Nats did not use Jacob Turner to follow Stephen Strasburg’s excellent performance against the Atlanta Braves Sunday, the assumption was Turner would get the nod Tuesday.
We know what happens when you assume.
After three weeks with the Syracuse Chiefs, this looks like a different Ross. His offspeed stuff had bite. He pitched quickly as Tuesday’s 10-1 win is the first time all year the Nats have finished a game in under 2:30. Inducing two double plays, he got out of trouble faster than he created it.
Given a foundation to work with, the focus shifts to his next start. Likely Memorial Day afternoon against the San Francisco Giants to start Washington’s first west coast swing of the year. If there are any concerns to watch, his arm slot dropped as the game went on and the fastball dipped in velocity.
As he prepares for the Giants, Ross has plenty of positives to build on. In rotten conditions—it rained the entire game—he shut down the Mariners with his arsenal. The five hits and solo run are season-best. He did not depend on umpires making calls; instead, he pounded the strike zone.
With most of the starting rotation heavily used, the addition of Ross takes pressure off the front four. Also, it allows Turner to slide back into the bullpen where he can go multiple innings. That is huge and a major step in the right direction.
One start does not a season make, but Ross calmed a bunch of nerves Tuesday. What the Nats get out of him the rest of the year determines how far they go this fall.