It turns out Joe Ross may be closer to returning than originally thought, or at least closer than it seemed on Monday. On Tuesday, Ross took a big step in his recovery from right shoulder inflammation by throwing a bullpen session in Baltimore at Camden Yards.
That was a step Ross waited weeks to take and, though it was only about 30 pitches, the right-hander felt great coming out of it and now has a potential return in much clearer focus.
"The head trainer, Paul Lessard, he came in and gave me the thumbs up," manager Dusty Baker said. "I know Joe has been champing at the bit and it was very successful. He said he didn't feel anything. Hopefully we can put him back to work here pretty soon."
"It feels really good, that's why I'm pretty excited," Ross said. "I finally got to throw off the mound and it's feeling good. Hopefully it feels good from here."
Ross hopes to throw another bullpen session this week and then increase his workload up from there. As for when he will return, that has not been determined.
"I don't know exactly how long, but I want to get back on the mound as soon as possible. I'm feeling better. That's what I'm working towards," he said.
Ross, though, could return sooner than under usual circumstances, as the Nats may be inclined to skip a minor league rehab assignment and instead have him rejoin them as a reliever. He could build his innings that way and eventually return to the rotation some time in September.
"It makes sense," Ross said. "I know the season's coming to an end for the minor league side. So if that what we've got to do, that's what we've got to do. I mean, I'd just be happy being out there pitching. I'll take whatever role I can get for now. But obviously want to try to get back to starting in September, mid-September. That's the goal."
Baker thinks having Ross pitch out of the bullpen could also come in handy later on.
"We're in the middle of a pennant race. I haven't talked to Mike [Rizzo] about it or anything, I just talked to Joe about it. I just didn't want him surprised that that was the case. We want him if possible, if he's ready, on the playoff roster. That's always a possibility for a fourth or fifth starter to be in the bullpen, anyways. So, we'll see. We'll see how his progress comes," he said.
Ross hasn't pitched in the majors since July 2. He hasn't pitched in a game since July 30, when he appeared with the Triple-A Syracuse.
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