With each of the Nats' minor league affiliates eliminated from playoff contention, Joe Ross threw a simulated game at Nationals Park on Saturday in lieu of a rehab assignment game. He threw around 60 pitches while Brian Goodwin, Michael Taylor and Wilmer Difo stood in the box and took swings.
Though Taylor took him deep to left field, Ross was pleased with how it went.
“It felt good. Fastball, slider, changeup. It was nice to get back out there and face some of our guys. It was hot out there, easy to stay loose for a couple of up-and-downs. I'm feeling pretty good,” he said.
Ross is working his way back after his previous rehab attempt was shut down due to a setback. He hasn't pitched in the majors since July 2, when the Nats noticed his velocity was down and realized something was wrong. Ross was then placed on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation.
Ross made two minor league starts in late July before his rehab assignment was ended. He then recovered to make three more rehab outings with Triple-A Syracuse before throwing the sim game. This time, he's looking and feeling much more like himself.
"He had good velocity. Had good break on his breaking ball. Changeup looked like he'd never been out," manager Dusty Baker said. "The thing that I was most impressed with was his location on a couple of pitches. Location is usually the last thing to come. He's looking good."
Goodwin agreed after facing Ross. He said Ross' sinking fastball "had a lot of run on it."
Ross is closer to 100 percent than he was before his first rehab was shut down, but he's still not quite there in terms of his pitch count. Ideally, the Nats would get Ross to 80 or 90 pitches before bringing him back to start.
They have floated the idea of having him begin as a reliever to continue to build his arm, then return to their rotation. But with the recent loss of Stephen Strasburg due to a right flexor mass strain, there may be more urgency to get Ross ready to start.
Though that dynamic exists, the Nats aren't ready to commit to Ross' next step.
"We haven't made up our minds yet," Baker said. "It depends on what we may need and how much depth we need at the position. Right now it looks like he's ready to start. The workload is the issue right now."
Ross, 23, is 7-4 with a 3.49 ERA in 16 starts this season.
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