After the Washington Nationals acquired Jeremy Hellickson on Wednesday, Joe Ross may move into a relief role and he could thrive just as Josh Hader has done.
On Wednesday, the Washington Nationals made the decision to re-sign starter Jeremy Hellickson to a one-year deal. This agreement likely had the biggest effect of right-hander Joe Ross, who was previously the favorite for the fifth starter’s job.
The reasoning behind the signing is likely due to the team’s lack of confidence in Ross being able to stay in the rotation all season. After all, he was only able to make three major league starts last season after missing most of the year recovering from Tommy John surgery the previous year.
So assuming Hellickson is successful in Spring Training and becomes the fifth starter, there are two options for Ross. He could either go down to Triple-A and conserve his innings down there, or he could shift to the bullpen and become a potentially dominant arm.
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It’s not clear which way the team is leaning, but should they choose the latter, he could follow in the path of Milwaukee Brewers’ left-hander Josh Hader. Both have several similarities that could help make Ross a success in the role, which could be a huge boost to a bullpen that still feels like it’s an arm short.
For starters, Hader is also a converted starter, and a previously highly rated one at that. In the minor leagues, he was one of the Brewers best pitching prospects in 2016 and put up solid numbers, never posting an ERA above 3.30 in the four minor league seasons he made at least 17 starts.
But in the end, the fact that Hader couldn’t develop a third pitch led him to be shifted to a bullpen where he has since thrived. The lefty pairs a dominant fastball that has averaged 94.4mph in the bigs with a wipeout slider that averages 81.5mph and form one of the best arsenals in the game.
It just so happens that Ross’ two best pitches are his fastball and his slider as well, so virtually removing his lesser changeup and using him in short stints to increase his velocity could make him dominant. Last year, his fastball averaged 93.1mph while his slider averaged 86.7mph, so imagine if he could add another mile or two per hour on top of that pitching one or two innings at a time. Mouthwatering.
Ross also has a little experience in the bullpen when he pitched in relief at the end of the 2015 season. It was only three appearances, but he didn’t allow a single earned run and looked pretty impressive with his increased velocity in those few games. If that’s a taste of what’s to come with a permanent move to the bullpen, Nats fans could be in for a treat.
The obvious downside in moving Joe Ross to the bullpen is that it will deplete the team’s already shaky starting pitching depth. The right-hander does have one option remaining, therefore for the 2019 season, he can sit in Triple-A with the Fresno Grizzlies to continue his development and to make sure he is ready when the team inevitably needs another starter.
But perhaps with Ross in the bullpen as a potential dominant long-man who can pitch multiple innings, they can afford to use lesser pitchers in the case of injury. As we’ve seen with Hellickson, restricting a pitcher to only facing a batting order twice can have significant improvements for the right pitchers.
Joe Ross has flashed great potential in his time with the Washington Nationals. However, it may turn out that the best way for him to live up to that potential is in the bullpen as a dominant multi-inning pitcher. We’ll have to see how that plays out this spring.