Joe Ross has delivered a sparkling 2.80 ERA in seven starts this year for the Washington Nationals. What started out as an audition with Stephen Strasburg and Doug Fister injured, has turned into a full-time gig, as the Nationals announced yesterday that Strasburg will return to the rotation on Saturday after completing the rehab process for a bothersome oblique. Doug Fister, who led the team with 16 victories a year ago but has struggled all year, will go to the bullpen. Ross, the 22-year-old rookie who started the year in Double-A, will keep his spot in the rotation.
For a Nationals team that finds themselves shockingly 1.5 games behind the New York Mets, this decision could be a game-changer. Fister just never looked right this year, and his last start was a three home run meltdown against the Arizona Diamondbacks that dropped his record to 4-6 and raised his ERA to 4.60.With Fister, the Nationals found themselves in a situation similar to that of the Baltimore Orioles who have had to deal with the struggles of Bud Norris all season. Both Fister and Norris will be free agents following the season and do not figure in their teams’ future. The Orioles were able to turn to Kevin Gausman, and the Nationals Ross.
Ross was never expected to arrive in D.C. this year, but he has taken his chance and run with it. The tall right-hander from California has just a 3-3 record, but that does not paint a picture of just how good he has been since arriving in the big leagues. Save his debut on June 6 against the Chicago Cubs, Ross has turned in a quality start each time out, and has given up more than two earned runs in a start just twice — the aforementioned debut, and a July 26 start against the Pittsburgh Pirates in which he gave up three.
In 45.0 innings, Ross has struck out 47 and walked just four. An 11.8 K:BB ratio is outstanding for a ten-year vet, but unheard of for a rookie. Ross relies heavily on his heavy, sinking fastball and has given up just four home runs. He backs up his mid-90’s fastball with a slider and change that both serve as strikeout pitches. Ross will only become more dominant as he develops a better feel for the changeup in the future.
Joe Ross has impressed me all year, starting with the starts I witnessed in Harrisburg for the Nationals’ Double-A affiliate, to the conversation I had with him a few days before his initial call-up, all the way to a very consistent rookie season in the Major Leagues. Ross is mature and poised on the mound with a calm, collected demeanor. He throws strikes — 444 of them against just 204 balls for the Nationals — and can locate all three pitches. When he’s doing that, it’s very difficult to see him being hit hard. While it’s still a small sample size, all signs point to Ross being a good starting pitcher in the Major Leagues. It’s not hard to see him as a number two starter on a playoff team, even at this early stage of his career.
For the last two months of the season, the Washington Nationals will be relying upon Joe Ross to hold down the back end of their rotation. As the lineup struggles to gain its footing, the pitching rotation must be as steady as possible. Ross has proven this year that he can bring that needed steady hand, and Fister did not. It may not have been the easiest decision given the fact that Ross has already equaled his career high innings total, but it was one that had to be made, and the Washington Nationals nailed it.