Washington Nationals: Joe Ross on track for 2018 return

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WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 24: Starting pitcher Joe Ross
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 24: Starting pitcher Joe Ross /
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The Washington Nationals are hoping Joe Ross can recover to pitch this year. Here is a look at what might happen upon his return.

Overlooked by many Washington Nationals fans, as Spring Training gets underway, is the team expects Joe Ross to return sometime this summer. MASN’s Mark Zuckerman shares the view in a story run Sunday on free agent signings.

As with Adam Eaton’s return, Ross pitching this year is an unexpected bonus. He last pitched on July 9 at home against Atlanta before leaving the game with forearm problems in the fourth and eventual Tommy John surgery.

Pitching in 2018 is optimistic. Recovery takes anywhere from 12 to 15 months. Already a player with durability issues, it remains a mystery how hard the Nats will push his rehab this year.

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Ross could pitch in the minors as early as this July. If that goes well, he regains his command, and is completely pain-free, he might return to the rotation in mid-August for the last six weeks of the regular season. How Dave Martinez uses him will depend on where the Nats are in the standings.

A.J. Cole is the de facto fifth starter. Mike Rizzo announced the decision recently at an event for season ticket holders. If Washington is in a comfortable place, and no other starters are injured, you might see the Nats go to a six-man rotation to end the year.

For Ross, it means regular work with an extra day of rest. If all goes well, he could pitch in the playoffs. Or, Washington could play conservative and shut him down for the year. The long-term goal is having him in the rotation every fifth day in 2019.

Depending on his recovery, you might see an innings limit placed in 2019 as you did with Stephen Strasburg after his surgery a few years ago. He has never thrown over 105 innings in a big-league season and 122 in any professional year. The San Diego Padres worked him 122 in 2013 with A-ball Fort Wayne in the Midwest League.

Whatever we see from Ross this year will not be a test of his duration.

He can pitch a month in Triple-A Syracuse to build strength in his arm and build enough stamina to get six innings. Because of the timing of the injury, there will not be any live pitching for him this spring in West Palm Beach.

Instead, he will start with extended Spring Training when cleared for baseball activities before his rehab stint. After those goals are met, Ross can return to Washington.

Next: Reynolds valuable depth for Nats

The process is tough, but the rewards of a fresh arm are strong. Nothing wrong with that.

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