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It’s Time For Nats To Take Training Wheels Off Joe Ross

Stephen Strasburg is sidelined with shoulder inflammation, Jon Lester has yet to make his debut this season, and Patrick Corbin has not pitched up to his contract so far this year.

Dave Martinez needs someone other than Max Scherzer to pitch late into games and give his team a chance to win.

So why is he so hesitant to give Joe Ross more freedom, instead of treating him like a typical No. 4 or 5 starter?

It’s a tendency Martinez has had throughout his tenure in Washington, and at times, it has been warranted. But not in the case of Ross in 2021.

Joe Ross has looked like a borderline ace starting pitcher three times this season. He should not be absolved of the 10-run outing he had against the Cardinals on Monday, but he’s held his opposition to one run and 11 hits in the other 17 innings he’s thrown. Even his walk rate – which had hovered near five per nine innings in 2019 – has been nearly trimmed in half.

So far this season, he’s pitched between 85–91 pitches three times (he went shorter in his season debut). Keeping in mind that he didn’t play last season, he averaged 86 pitches per start in 2019, never throwing 100 pitches in a game. In fact, he hasn’t reached triple digits since undergoing Tommy John surgery midseason of 2017.

Those truths have combined to form a self-fulfilling prophecy. Martinez doesn’t know for certain how Ross will handle an elevated pitch count, ergo he doesn’t allow him to go deep into games. 

In the postgame media availability following another masterful performance on Saturday, when asked whether Ross was removed after six innings due to a dip in performance or because of his pitch count, Martinez stated “For right now, I like where he’s at. We got to that 80-pitch threshold, and pushed him up to 90 pitches today. I think that’s good for right now.” He continued, “We’ve definitely got to monitor his workload and focus on keeping him for 162 games.”

The concern is easy to understand, and Martinez should be commended for being cautious. However, there comes a point at which every manager has to trust that their players can perform up to the general requirements of their roles. He shouldn’t view 80–90 pitches as a goal; it’s closer to the bare minimum.

If Ross was pitching like he did in totality in 2019 (when he sported a 5.48 ERA and sometimes appeared to be a ticking time bomb), this wouldn’t be much of a discussion. But the fact he’s pitched in line with his post-All Star break numbers from that season – which were much better – suggests that something needs to change. That doesn’t even take into account he’s currently functioning as Washington’s No. 3 starter, as opposed to the back of the rotation, as was the case in 2019.

We’ve seen solid performance from Ross in the past. In his first 35 appearances, prior to his first injury, the one-time star prospect’s ERA stood at 3.52. That’s your typical No. 3 starter, and that was immediately after being recalled from AA – not even AAA. Back then, it seemed like the sky may be the limit.

Sure, his career has been a rocky road since then, but who’s to say he hasn’t rediscovered his old form? Better yet, is it unfair to think he could still improve compared to his initial production? He’s still only 27 years old, theoretically just entering his prime.

Additionally, what message are you sending when you handcuff what appears to be a major asset in the organization? If Joe Ross can’t get to 100 pitches, what chance do guys like Erick Fedde or Austin Voth have? What reason is there to believe that the next group of pitching prospects will get any more leash?

Martinez should be more willing to take calculated risks with Ross. That doesn’t mean letting him throw 100 pitches every night, but if he’s cruising through five or six shutout innings, why not let him pitch into the seventh? It’ll help him grow, likely elevate your confidence in him, and even save your often overly-taxed bullpen.

Davey needs to stop letting his heart get in the way. As long as he isn’t stretched to unreasonable limits, the odds of Ross succumbing to a similar injury again are slim. Candidly, Ross likely knows his own limits. He comes across as someone who’s very open and reasonable about his physical (and mental) state. He won’t demand to stay on the mound until the end of time, like Max Scherzer often does.

Joe Ross is ready to take the next step.

It’s time for Dave Martinez to let him take it. 

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Tuesday, 18 May 2021
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