With Stephen Strasburg nearing a Major League return, the Washington Nationals are left facing a difficult decision. Strasburg struck out 11 over the course of just 5.2 innings in his second rehab start with Triple-A Syracuse. It’s been a bumpy ride for Strasburg this year, but he finally appears healthy, and will be happily welcomed back into the starting rotation in the Federal City.
Where does that leave Joe Ross?
Ross, taking his second fill-in turn in the Nationals’ rotation, has been impressive every time he has taken the hill. The 22-year-old has turned in five consecutive quality starts following his debut on June 6. In six starts and 39.0 innings at the big league level, Ross has a 3.00 ERA and has struck out 40 while walking just four. Opponents are batting just .221 against him, and Ross has given up just three home runs. On the whole, the way he has managed a Major League lineup and kept composure regardless of the situation or score has been impressive to watch. Ross has the poise and mentality of a ten-year vet, and should have no problem holding his own in a pennant race.
In each of his six starts, Ross has given the Nationals a chance to win. He has not allowed more than three earned runs in a single start and deserves much better than the 2-3 record he currently sports. Alas, the Nationals have struggled mightily to score runs — Ross has received just 3.1 runs of support per game — when he takes the ball.
The same cannot be said of Doug Fister. The tall right-hander has not given the Nationals a chance to win every time out, especially of late. In his past six starts, Fister is 1-4 with a 5.29 ERA. On the year, opponents are batting .302 against the pitch-to-contact pitcher. Fister has given up 12 home runs in 15 starts this year. With the Nationals desperately needing a win on Monday night, Fister surrendered three home runs and five earned to the lowly Arizona Diamondbacks.
That fourth straight loss dropped the Nationals a half game behind the surprising New York Mets. Although he has struggled with inconsistency and injuries, the return of Stephen Strasburg should still be a shot in the arm for this ballclub. Ross has been the fill-in, but now he has shown he deserves to stick around in Washington for the rest of the year. He has thrown only 115.0 innings combined on the year, and is fast approaching the career high of 122.1 set in 2013. The innings total the Nationals will allow Ross to reach this year remains unclear.
The Nationals would not have envisioned Joe Ross holding a prominent spot in their postseason hopes (they wouldn’t have envisioned being in a playoff battle either) back in spring training, but that is exactly what he now holds. The struggling Fister will be a free agent after the year, and should not figure into the long-term plan in D.C. Joe Ross does, and he has been the better pitcher, especially of late. It is going to be decision time when Stephen Strasburg comes off the disabled list in the near future. For the sake of their postseason hopes, the Washington Nationals need to make the smart decision and continue handing Joe Ross the ball every fifth day.