Just as the Nationals get set to welcome Stephen Strasburg back from the disabled list, they have new problems to worry about with another member of their rotation.
Starter Joe Ross' latest uneven outing uncovered a dramatic drop in his fastball velocity. This year his sinker velocity has been down slightly from 2015, but on Saturday night the difference was obvious.
Ross began the game hitting 94 and 95 miles per hour in the first inning against the Reds. But by the end of his 5 1/3 inning start he was regularly topping out at 89. The Nationals noticed the change on the radar gun and now plan to examine Ross on Sunday to determine what is wrong.
"We're looking into some things," manager Dusty Baker said. "The one good thing about the radar gun is that you can see when a guy’s velocity has gone down."
Ross has averaged 93.4 miles per hour on his sinker this season, but on Saturday he averaged just 91.8 and that number was skewed by the first inning. Baker also mentioned the team has been limiting Ross' innings as of late.
Ross, though, does not believe he is injured.
"I felt good it's just my stuff just wasn't there, command wasn't really there, little frustrating but I feel alright," he said.
Ross is a pitcher that can hit 95 or 96 on his fastball. When it's working it can set his slider up as a lethal out-pitch. Without his fastball working, though, things can fall apart. He explained the impact of a velocity drop after the 9-4 loss.
"It can be tough just because that few miles an hour can kind of get them to commit early on the fastball, makes your offspeed, slider and changeup that much better," he said. "When you don't have that much velocity separation between pitches then it makes it easy for them to sit back and not have to guess on one spot for the location of the pitch. So, it kind of just makes it easier overall for the hitter."
Ross, 23, has had a rough few weeks overall. After beginning the season with a 2.37 ERA through his first 10 starts, he's got a 6.22 mark in the six outings since.
On Saturday night Ross allowed four earned runs on 10 hits, which tied the career-high he set in his previous outing on June 27. It was another night that he ran into trouble early with all four of his runs coming in the first two innings. He also hit two batters and threw a wild pitch.
"Myself and [Max Scherzer] were talking about it on the bench because he’s had a little trouble in the first inning," Baker said. "Trying to figure out why. Do you change a guy’s warm up regimen, or is it something mental? Is he coming out too strong? The second time in a row his balls are about belt high. That’s his slider and his sinker. That’s a formula for getting hit hard because you don’t have to alter your swing to hit it. We will look into it more tomorrow.”
Even with less zip on his fastball, Ross felt he should have been more effective. He didn't think he located his pitches as he should have, either.
"Usually command is one of my things. I feel like I can locate the fastball slider whatever and it just hasn't been that way the past couple games. So that being like my kind of cornerstone, not having that there is tough but just been working on it, hoping I can get it back soon and kind of get my self rolling again," he said.
On Sunday the Nationals will activate Stephen Strasburg from the disabled list. Normally that would mean Lucas Giolito is heading down to Triple-A Syracuse, but Ross' velocity issues may have thrown a wrench into that plan.