Most Nationals fans probably didn't know Joe Ross' name just one year ago when he was the second prospect acquired in a multi-team trade centered around Trea Turner, the Nats' shortstop of the future. But it was Ross, not Turner, who made the most immediate and significant impact in Washington in 2015, as the right-hander became one of the more pleasant surprises in a year categorized mostly by letdowns and disappointment.
Ross was called up in early June to help out a Nats' rotation depleted at the time by injuries. At just 22-years-old, Ross went on to set a modern MLB record with 47 strikeouts to only four walks in his first seven starts.
Ross would come back down to Earth soon after that stretch, but ended up with impressive rookie numbers including a 3.64 ERA through 16 total outings, the final three in relief after the Nats shut him down as a starter due to innings. The Nats saw Ross getting tired in early September and, looking back, Ross says they were right.
"Towards the end I got a little tired. That was a lot more innings than I've thrown than in the past," he said. "I noticed right after the last game in New York on the bus, it just all hit me. It was like 'wow.' My legs and everything were pretty tired, and I hadn't pitched in probably a week or so."
Ross ended up throwing a total of 142 2/3 innings in 2015 spread across the majors, Double-A and Triple-A. That was over 40 innings more than his previous professional high of 122 1/3 set back in 2013.
That workload left Ross completely spent, but he thinks reaching that point will set him up well for 2016.
"It was good to get me ready for this coming year. The main way to get stronger from throwing is to push yourself and get to that limit. Hopefully next year I am in better condition to last longer throughout the year," he said.
Another thing that could produce a better Joe Ross in 2016, is if Joe simply spends more time with his family this winter. His brother, Tyson, is an All-Star pitcher for the Padres. The two are very close and Tyson even made it to Washington to watch Ross' debut at Nationals Park on June 6.
Joe gave some insight into exactly how involved his brother is in his career.
"We talk a lot... after my games mostly. He would watch a lot more of my games than I thought. He would ask me how I felt or how I felt about certain situations and then we would talk about that. He would give me his two cents and give me not just things to work on, but an opinion [on pitch selection, etc.]. I trust him. Obviously, he knows what he's talking about and he's done well so far," he said.
Ross gained a lot in 2015 both physically and mentally, and is now just ready to get started with a new year and a new season.
"I wouldn't say I'm more comfortable [than last winter], but confident having last year with some time in the big leagues. I'm just looking forward to spring training and to see how things will go," he said.