First the news: Joe Ross exited Monday’s start with one out in the fourth inning after a comebacker hit his right leg. Ross didn’t take any practice pitches before leaving. His conversation with Davey Martinez and trainer Paul Lessard was enough to get him off the field.
The ball was hit 110 mph at Ross. The hardest of the night. It clanged off his leg before he threw to first. It’s also terrible timing and the only thing that has slowed him in August.
Why bad timing? Because either he or Erick Fedde is coming out of the rotation Thursday when Max Scherzer is activated. Ross has a clear case he should stay. Now, he’s hurt. To what extent is unclear. X-rays were negative, according to reports out of Pittsburgh.
But, his August has been dominant. Not good. Or decent. Dominant. He’s thrown 21 ⅓ innings and allowed one earned run. That’s a 0.42 ERA. Monday, he was on his way to a fourth consecutive win while operating with an 11-0 lead.
The Nationals eventually won, 13-0. They have seven of eight, are five games out of first place and 12 games over .500.
What’s different for Ross? Multiple things. Ross is bringing his knee higher before delivering his pitches. He’s also altered his usage. In the three previous August starts, Ross threw 50% sinkers. The average velocity of those sinkers was 94 mph.
This is why Ross appeared to be a possible bullpen weapon. It’s an interesting arm for a manager to deploy, especially with runners on base. However, that failed, as did most of his post-Tommy John surgery starts.
Then August arrived.
Fedde has pitched well, too. His three August starts led to a 3.18 ERA. Though, his strikeout-to-walk ratio hints he hasn’t been in command of those innings. His WHIP is also 1.53. Ross’ WHIP coming into Monday was 1.00. It hints at two things: who has the higher ceiling and who is on the better run.
Both have been crucial without Scherzer, who is finally locked in to pitch for the first time since July 25. Scherzer has made two starts since July 6. Yet, the Nationals are 23-14 in that span. He’s back on the mound Thursday in Pittsburgh.
Who shows up in Chicago is now the question. Ross was in line to start Saturday. Aníbal Sánchez - bumped to Friday by Scherzer’s return - is in a spot to open the series. Stephen Strasburg is set to close the series.
Ross deserved the chance to keep going, a move which would likely flip Fedde into the bullpen and a veteran reliever -- possibly Javy Guerra, again -- out of it. Now it’s up to his leg cooperating by the weekend.
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