Already down 4-0 in the third inning to the New York Mets, it would have been hard to blame Joe Ross if he thought his outing on Monday night might end a little earlier than he would have hoped.
At that point, Ross had allowed a career-high nine hits in two-plus innings, and was en route to perhaps his worst start of the season. So with two men on and none out in the third, Dusty Baker took a stroll from the dugout to the mound — usually the surest sign of a pitching change.
"I was kind of like 'Well, I don't think anyone's in the bullpen, hopefully I'm not done yet.'" Ross said.
He wasn't. It turned out that Baker wasn't out to yank his 23-year-old starter from the game. Instead, for the first time this season, the Nats' manager played the role of pitching coach Mike Maddox, opting to give Ross a rare pep talk to help him stop the bleeding and keep the Nats in it.
"I just felt it. It was time for me to go [to the mound]," Baker said."I'll go out from time to time. I haven't gone out at all this year.....but it was something I felt I had to say and it couldn't wait any longer."
And what, exactly, did Baker say to Ross?
"I just told him, 'Hold the game where it is right there and give us a chance to come back.'"
The motivational words worked. Ross retired 11 of the next 12 hitters he faced, including nine straight immediately following the mound visit. He kept New York's offense at bay while the Nats scored 11 unanswered runs to turn what looked like a potential blowout loss into a laugher of a win.
So after rebounding, Ross' stat line looked far more respectable by game's end: Six innings, four earned runs on 10 hits, earning his seventh win of the season. For sure, it was far from his most dominant outing, but the ability to rebound after a rough beginning is another feather in his cap as he continues his maturation as a big-league starter.
"I think I just found a rhythm," Ross said. "The first three innings, fastball command wasn't there, slider wasn't good...and then I kind of picked it up the last three. Just overall felt my better command came back."
Baker has spoken highly of Ross ever since he's become the Nats' skipper, even saying a few weeks ago that the young right-hander was one of the most pleasant surprises of the season thus far. And after Monday night, despite the first three innings, Ross may have earned himself even more trust.
"[Baker] came out there, had the confidence in me, let me keep going, work my way through it and it worked pretty well," Ross said.