Washington Nationals: Joe Ross ready to step up as fifth starter
By Blake Finney
After a year of disappointment for the Washington Nationals on the starting pitching front, they need a strong year from Joe Ross as the fifth starter.
One of the main reasons that the Washington Nationals struggled to stay in playoff contention last year was the struggles of their rotation. That has to change in 2019. Hopefully, a healthy Joe Ross can help make a big difference.
He made it through the year unscathed as he focused on his rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery and was even able to make three starts in the majors and the end of the year. However, those three appearances were fairly nondescript as he went 0-2 with a 5.06 ERA in just 16 innings.
But obviously, the most important part for Ross was his health as he gets ready to step up his workload in 2019. While the team could still be cautious on the whole, Ross should be able to handle a sizeable workload this year.
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With Spring Training less than three weeks away now, he’s the clear frontrunner for the team’s fifth spot in the rotation. He’ll have to beat out competition from the likes of Erick Fedde, Henderson Alvarez, Kyle McGowin and any other non-roster invitees in West Palm Beach, but he’s easily the best pitcher of the group right now.
In his first two seasons in the major leagues, he went 12-10 with a 3.52 ERA as he flashed a mid 90s fastball, mid 80s slider, and changeup that gave him an electric arsenal. At that point, he looked like the kind of pitcher who would easily profile as a third or fourth option in the rotation, but then injuries set in.
In 2017, his fastball and changeup both averaged around 2mph slower than his two previous years, but he was able to get back up to his usual velocity in his short 2018 stint. That bodes well for a bounce-back, and if anything, Ross seems to be underrated heading into next season based on what we saw pre-injury.
However, while it would be nice to simply take the shackles off and let him pitch with no limits, you can’t just forget the TJ Surgery. After all, this is the organization that infamously sat Stephen Strasburg for the postseason in 2012, so they’re going to make sure they don’t push their young pitcher too far and risk his health in future seasons.
Management can go a couple of different ways with this in order to try and limit Ross’ workload next season. First, they could potentially demote him to the minor leagues either to start the season or during the season if a suitable candidate emerges to take over for him for a month or so.
Or they could look to give him the Jeremy Hellickson treatment to begin the season, only allowing him to face the other team’s order twice through. While his arsenal is tantalizing, it’s still only three pitches, so this method could work well and also allow him to stay in the rotation all season rather than relying on other pitchers stepping up.
Either way, they’re likely to be careful because if he stays healthy all year, then the Nationals would have one of the best fifth starters in the league. It’s up to Ross to step up, and he should be able to after a full recovery from his Tommy John procedure.
Joe Ross can help calm a lot of the Washington Nationals rotation fears if he steps and performs like he’s able to next season. Nats fans should get ready to enjoy watching the right-hander pitch again after his long road back to the major leagues.