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Ross shines against former team, pulled early for innings limit


Ross shines against former team, pulled early for innings limit

The Nationals alluded to the limitations they were ready to apply on starter Joe Ross on Tuesday, as the rookie is already in uncharted territory in terms of innings pitched this season. Tanner Roark was sent to Single-A Potomac to stretch out his arm with the plan to return in September and take Ross' rotation spot. Ross was essentially declared a few starts away from working towards 2016.

If those plans weren't already clear, they certainly are after Thursday night. Ross was brilliant through six innings of work against the Padres, allowing zero earned runs through six innings with just one hit allowed. But despite throwing only 77 pitches, the right-hander was removed before the seventh as manager Matt Williams decided to go to his bullpen much earlier than he normally would.

The Nats were up, but only by two runs in what was a 3-1 game at the time. Yet in came Casey Janssen to pitch the seventh inning.

"The fact that we added one, and we got two in [the fifth inning] and we could get him out of there after the sixth, it was good for him. It’ll just help him stretch through his next starts," Williams explained.

Given the lead and a few fresh arms in the back of his bullpen, Williams saw it as an opportunity to get Ross out of one early.

"Tonight’s an indication that he’s still feeling okay," he said. "If we can limit that and get ourselves in a position to win ballgames, then we want to try to do that. Again, each game will dictate what we can and can’t do."

Ross understands the Nats' intentions for him this season, but was not aware he would be going out so soon on this particular night.

"I wasn't really expecting it. But a call to the bullpen, that's not really my decision. It's fine with me, I guess," he said.

Ross finished with one unearned run, seven strikeouts and two walks in his six innings of work. It was another impressive outing in a growing collection of them for the Nats rookie.

Eight of Ross' 11 career games have been quality starts. In seven of those he has allowed two runs or fewer. That includes his previous start, on Aug. 22 against Milwaukee, when Ross pitched seven innings of one-run ball with zero walks.

Thursday night just happened to come against his former team, a San Diego Padres club that could very much use a 22-year-old standout who holds a 3.24 ERA as a rookie. After all, any team could.

"He's got really good stuff, good composure, doesn't show much emotion on the mound," Ryan Zimmerman said. "He goes out there with a plan and executes. It's been fun to watch. We've enjoyed watching him kind of grow up and become a pitcher at this level. He's got a pretty high ceiling."

Ross hit some bumps along the road earlier in August when he gave up nine earned runs in 8 2/3 total innings across two starts in Los Angeles and San Francisco. But he has rebounded convincingly in the time since.

Ross credits commanding his fastball on the inside of the plate, in particular, as something that has made him especially effective as of late.

"It opens up the outside half of the plate for sure. And it really keeps them from leaning out over the plate, which is probably the biggest thing, to keep them honest. It opens up the outside corner for the bullpen later in the game. That's kind of something I've been trying to work on the past couple games," he said.

The fastball also helped set up his slider on Thursday night, he explained:

"It felt pretty good. I think for the first couple I felt like it snapped out of my fingers. It was a good pitch throughout the night, especially later on the second and third time through the lineup."

Ross is now at 142 2/3 innings on the season, which is over 20 innings more than he's ever pitched in a given year. Last season he threw 121 2/3 innings in the minors and the season before he finished with 122 1/3.

Exactly how far the Nats will push Ross before Roark takes his place has not been outlined publicly. But Ross will be ready for whatever they decide to do.

"I guess I'll go out and keep throwing until they tell me that I'm done," he said.

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Orioles weather long rain delay in 3-0 win over Nationals

Orioles weather long rain delay in 3-0 win over Nationals

WASHINGTON -- The rain was heavy and relentless. As the puddles grew deeper on the tarp at Nationals Park, the Baltimore Orioles were left to wonder if their bid for a rare road victory would be thwarted by, of all things, the weather.

During a season in which very little has worked in their favor, the Orioles withstood a long rain delay to beat the Washington Nationals 3-0 Wednesday night.

Baltimore led 2-0 after four innings when play was stopped. After a wait of 2 hours, 43 minutes, the game resumed with a few hundred fans from the announced crowd of 32,153 sprinkled around the lower seating bowl.

Mark Trumbo homered for Baltimore, and Andrew Cashner and four relievers combined on a five-hitter in a game that ended long after midnight.

"It was nice," Trumbo said. "I'm glad that we actually kept the game going. Had we not been able to, it might have been a wash. But it ended up being pretty big for us."

Baltimore ended a six-game losing streak to Washington that began last May, won for only the fourth time in 20 games and improved the majors' worst road record to 10-28.

This one was worth the wait.

"It's never easy, especially when you get over the hour mark, two-hour mark," Trumbo said. "Then you have to restart. It's almost two games in one, so, great job by our guys tonight."

The Nationals managed only two hits following the delay, both in the ninth inning.

"It happens. You can't do anything about the rain," manager Dave Martinez said. "You've got to come out and get yourself ready to play. I'm not going to make any excuses."

The rain delay cut short a solid pitching performance by Cashner, who allowed three hits and no walks over four innings in his return from an 11-day stay on the disabled list with back spasms.

Miguel Castro (2-2) followed with two hitless innings, Darren O'Day pitched a perfect seventh and Zach Britton got four outs.

Brad Brach allowed the Nationals to load the bases with two outs in the ninth before striking out Mark Reynolds .

Trumbo hit a two-run homer in the second inning off Gio Gonzalez (6-4), and for a while it appeared the drive would be washed out by the rain.

"One pitch. That was the whole game," Gonzalez lamented. "That was it."

Indeed, it all ended well for the Orioles, who added a run in the sixth when Adam Jones doubled off Shawn Kelley and scored on a sacrifice fly by Danny Valencia .


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The Nationals have had their eyes on Kelvin Herrera for years

The Nationals have had their eyes on Kelvin Herrera for years

On Monday, in the middle of their game with the Yankees, Mike Rizzo did a very Mike Rizzo thing and added another strong arm to the Nationals' bullpen well before the trade deadline.

In a trade with the Kansas City Royals, the Nats dealt prospects Kelvin Gutierrez, Blake Perkins and Yohanse Morel for relief pitcher Kelvin Herrera.

Herrera, who's in his eighth season, has walked only two batters in the last 27 games and is set to become a free agent at the end of the season. 

"We just thought that it was a good idea to strike early," Rizzo said Wednesday on 106.7 The Fan's Sports Junkies, simulcasted on NBC Sports Washington.

"We thought the closer to the deadline we get, the more competition we'll have for Kelvin [Herrera]. We were able to strike a deal with Dayton Moore quickly and [we] couldn't be happier about it."

But Mike Rizzo didn't just come across Herrera by chance, he's had his sights on him for years.

"He was one of the guys that we kind of kicked the tires on [last year] and obviously the price for Kelvin at that time with a year and a half of control was a lot different than it was with four and a half months of control."

"We did have our eyes on him for years. He's been a great reliever for years. He's one of the guys we talked about when we talked about improving our bullpen." 

Herrera has spent all of his eight seasons in the big leagues with the Royals, even winning a World Series. Trades can bring both joy and angst, but Rizzo knows Herrera is excited to get back to playing meaningful baseball.

"This guy is such a competitor; World Series tested and playoff tested. He's happy to be playing meaningful games. He talked about what it takes to win a World Series, and you know, our guys were all ears. I think he's really thankful for getting the opportunity to get after it again and get another ring."

"At the same time, you know, it's hard for those old relationship to die and to move on, but he was very excited about being with us. I spoke to him after we made the trade and he [was] a little shocked, but really fired up about it. And when he got to the clubhouse, [he] met some of his old teammates - Timmy Collins and Ryan Madson -  and was welcome with open arms by not only the bullpen guys but everyone on the team." 

Herrera will join Sean Doolittle, Brandon Kintzler, and Ryan Madson to make about as deep of a bullpen as any in baseball right now.