PEORIA, Ariz. – Tyson Ross said the idea of pitching in a Cubs uniform never crossed his mind on Tuesday afternoon while facing a lineup stacked with Dexter Fowler, Jason Heyward, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber.
But at some point Theo Epstein’s front office – which has been so methodical and disciplined in finding the right pieces for a World Series contender – will probably need to get another top-of-the-rotation pitcher.
The Cubs targeted Ross last summer, when the San Diego Padres looked at Javier Baez as a possible future shortstop before standing pat at the July 31 trade deadline. The Cubs kept exploring deals for a young starter this winter, but couldn’t get over the sticker shock from the escalating price of pitching.
“All that happens on the Internet,” Ross said. “You guys write your articles and everything. It’s cool. I get it, man. It’s a big part of the game. But as players, we’re just focused on: What am I doing right now? How do I execute this pitch? How do I get three outs and get back in the dugout?”
Ross actually couldn’t finish the first inning at Peoria Stadium, facing eight Cubs and getting only one out while giving up four hits, three walks and five runs in an 11-1 Cactus League loss.
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But that doesn’t change the big picture for a Cubs team that should have Ross on the trade-deadline radar again – or a San Diego franchise that seems to have trouble figuring out whether to be buyers or sellers in a National League West where the San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks dominated the offseason headlines.
“As I stand here right now, I’m looking forward to being a Padre,” Ross said. “It’s a young club here. We got a lot of talent. We may not have the notoriety that other clubs have, but I completely believe in these guys. I need (to) step up and lead and be a lot better than I was today.
“I don’t like to play GM. I just like to pitch. And I think this clubhouse has everything we need.”
Ross has a misleading 26-34 record on San Diego teams that have lost 86, 85 and 88 games across the last three seasons. Only Jake Arrieta and Clayton Kershaw had a lower hard-hit rate last season, according to an ESPN Stats & Info analysis piece headlined “This could be the year that Tyson Ross turns into a legitimate ace.”
Standing at 6-foot-6, Ross towered over the reporters inside the clubhouse, making it easy to see why the Cubs would be intrigued by the angles and force his right arm can create on the mound.
“They’ve got a ton of young talent,” Ross said. “Obviously, it was a pretty cool playoff run they had last year. They’re a really talented team and it’s interesting to see how (they’ve) built that in such a short amount of time.
“It’s something that I’m looking forward to building here. Why not us?”
Educated at Cal-Berkeley, Ross should be able to follow a game plan and have his stuff play outside of Petco Park. He made an All-Star team in 2014 and accounted for almost 200 innings last season (3.26 ERA). He should still have some room to grow – his 29th birthday is next month – and can’t become a free agent until after the 2017 season.
“The rumor mill kind of heats up in the middle of the summer,” Ross said. “For players, it tends to be more of a distraction than anything. But that’s a big part of the game: Who can you acquire at the deadline and help push you over the top?”
For a Cubs team with a World Series-or-bust attitude, Ross might be the answer to that question.