Archives for posts with tag: Joe Ross

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The Nationals boast one of the best rotations in baseball, and that’s thanks in large part to the four horsemen (profiled on these pages entering last year’s World Series).  But there’s no turning the clock back to 1975 when four-man rotations were the rule, meaning somehow this team is going to need 30 or so starts from somebody.   It’s a thankless job, because while it’s difficult to make the playoffs without a reliable fifth starter most teams trim their rotations to four in the playoffs due to the off-days.  And by definition the fifth starter isn’t necessarily going to be awesome;  otherwise they’d be the fourth starter.

Teams go about finding number five in one of two ways nowadays: they sign a veteran (sometimes off of the scrap heap) like the Nats did with Jeremy Hellickson in 2018 or go with prospects who might be a little green like last summer when Erick Fedde (12 starts), Joe Ross (nine starts), and Austin Voth (eight starts) split the role.  That’s the trio that will be under Manager Davey Martinez’ microscope over the next month. “Joe-two years removed from surgery, he’s completely healthy-he looks really good. Fedde, I watched throw today- threw the ball really well and Voth also threw the ball well,” Martinez said. “When we break camp one of them is going to be the fifth starter.”

Joe Ross has been in this role before. The 26-year old made 23 starts for the Nats in 2016 and was the beneficiary of ridiculous run support (the team averaged 9.15 runs in his 13 startes) the following season before suffering a torn elbow ligament.  After Tommy John Surgery, Ross returned to make three appearances in 2018.  He then split time with the Nats and AAA Fresno in 2019,  and made three appearances in the postseason (0-1 with a 7.45 ERA over 9.2 innings).

Austin Voth went 3-3 with a 3.30 ERA over eight starts (four in September) and nine appearances before shoulder tendinitis helped keep him off of the World Series Roster (he was active for the NLDS and NLCS but didn’t make an appearance).  The University of Washington product and former fifth round pick is healthy and ready for the audition.  “Honestly it’s just going to come down who pitches the best in Spring Training,” Voth said. “I know there’s a lot of other things that go into that, but for me I’m just focusing on what I can do put myself good position to make the ballclub.”

Erick Fedde made 12 starts and 21 major league appearances in 2019, posting an ERA of 4.50 which was a slight improvement over his 2018 (5.54 over 11 starts).  The former first round pick does have one more year of options; in a rule that smacks of Faber University’s “Double Secret Probation” if a player uses up all three years of options before his fifth professional year, he gets a fourth year of options.  What is Davey looking for from Fedde? “Consistency. Strike one. Finishing hitters. He had hitters last year 0-2, took him three or four pitches to finish hitter,” Martinez said. “Look at Max and Stras, and they try to finish hitters on four pitches all the time. I’d like to see him do that.” The fact that Fedde has another potential year of minor league flexibility while Voth and Ross do not could color the competition in March.  But the 27-year old is focused on what he can control. “I just finished up my first live BP,” Fedde said Thursday. “It’s good to see some hitters in there. You really find out what your stuff looks like when you see some swings. That’s a really good starting spot. Things are feeling great- I’m excited and ready to compete for a spot.”

The competition began last weekend with the first of 31 games before they leave Florida.  “I want them to go out there and just keep building of what they did last year,” Martinez said. “They’ve all showed that they can pitch in the big leagues; just go out there and pitch with confidence, relax and just do your thing.”

 

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A bad dessert can wipe out a great meal.  Last year the Nationals relief corps almost shut down the season before it began. The bullpen ERA of 5.66 was the worst in the majors and their 29 blown saves was the second-highest total in the big leagues.  Even in the team’s postseason run the team was aided by relief appearances from starters Stephen Strasburg (three scoreless innings in the Wildcard win), Max Scherzer (one scoreless frame in the NLDS Game Two victory), and Patrick Corbin (five appearances including three scoreless innings in Game Seven of the World Series).  So manager Davey Martinez has his work cut out for him in 2020.

He starts with a solid base:  Sean Doolittle saved 29 games in 2019 and was an All Star the previous season, Daniel Hudson went 3-0 with a 1.44 ERA and six saves after joining the Nats in a midseason trade, and Will Harris posted a 1.50 ERA in 60 innings over 68 games last year with Houston. “Those guys are going to be the constants in the back end of the bullpen, but with that being said you got (Tanner) Rainey who has pitched in the playoffs and the World Series for us,” Martinez said. “you got (Wander) Suero who did a good job and ate a lot of innings for us.” Suero led the team with 71.1 relief innings in 2019.  Harris is the new kid in town with the Nats becoming his fourth major league team.  The former Astro tries to put his finger on what makes a bullpen’s whole greater than the sum of its parts. “I think it’s having a lot of guys who can do a lot of different things has produced the best results,” Harris said. “Having guys that can pick one another up and do different things to help kind of dissect and navigate a lineup.”

Veteran Javy Guerra posted an ERA of 4.86 over 40 games last season for the Nationals while tossing two innings over three frames in the World Series.  “I think for the most part we collectively sat in that room and believed in each other,” Guerra said. “The numbers are the numbers…but we controlled everything in our room and knew what we had to do as a group.”  The 34-year old is back with the team on a Minor League contract with a Spring Training invitation and returns to a crowded clubhouse.  One offseason acquisition is Ryne Harper; what does the former Minnesota right-hander think is crucial to building a successful bullpen?  “You’re like brothers out there. You develop relationships-you get real close with one another and I think that’s important too,” Harper said. “You’re pulling for another guy, you’re helping another guy between outings.”

Two X-factors in 2020 are two midseason moves from 2019 that didn’t pan out as well as the Nats would have liked to due to injuries:  Hunter Strickland and Roenis Elias.  “Elias got hurt and Strickland was hurt before we got him,” Martinez said. “I’m looking forward to watching those two guys pitch to their capabilities.  Strickland was a closer at one point and from what I’ve seen he’s thrown the ball really well early in camp.”

One factor that may ease the 2020 bullpen’s growing pains:  starting pitching.  Last year’s rotation ranked second in the majors in ERA and quality starts.  With multiple off days (six before May 1) Martinez could shorten his rotation which would allow the number five starter (likely Joe Ross, Erick Fedde, or Austin Voth) to provide another option in the pen.  One thing’s for certain:  anyone watching the season opener at Citi Field will sit up and take notice when the Nats bullpen percolates for the first time in 2020.

The Nats almost went from the ridiculous high of sweeping San Francisco behind the oh so unpredictable arms of Joe Ross and Erick Fedde (plus Anibal Sanchez) to a nightmare weekend in New York.  Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin both pitched well enough, but the bullpen blew up both Friday and Saturday nights and the team was fortunate on Sunday to beat the Mets 7-4.  Juan Soto’s strained ankle is day to day and Max Scherzer remains on the long road back, but for the moment the Nats are still trending upward: 4-2 for the week, 5-4 for the month and 15-13 since the All Star Game.  They won’t go back inside the division until August 30 but will play 21 of their final 30 games against NL East foes.

Digesting the Division- Atlanta remains atop the NL East thanks to a 4-3 week; they’re 70-50 mark is two games better than where last year’s division champs were at this point.  The Nats (62-55) inch to within six and a half games of the lead while the streaking New York Mets (61-57 after a 6-1 week) are eight behind the Braves.  Philadelphia (60-58) drops nine games back after a 2-5 week; they’re 4-7 this month and 13-15 since the All Star Game.  Thank goodness the basement is a few levels down as Miami (44-73) is zeroing in on a tenth straight losing season (after five winning years the previous decade).

The Wild Wildcard Race- Sunday’s win over the Mets kept the Nats a half game ahead of St. Louis for the Wildcard lead; a loss would have dropped the team into a tie with Milwaukee a half game behind the Cardinals and Mets.  Of the five teams in the mix (Philadelphia is just two and a half games behind the Nationals), the Nats own the worst record in one-run decisions (12-18).  The best?  The Brewers are 20-13 in such games.

O’s Woes- the Birds beat back the brooms by outslugging Houston 8-7 thanks to a Rio Ruiz walkoff homer.  The victory ends a five-game losing streak that included a 23-2 rout at the hands of the Astros the night before.  The home run coughed up Sunday was the 241st allowed this year by the Orioles-tying the American League record set by the 1996 Detroit pitching staff.  They’re also 17 homers shy of Cincinnati’s major league record of 258 set three years ago.  This week the Birds battle the New York Yankees- as the current elimination number is eight the O’s could be eliminated from the AL East by Thursday night.

Harper’s Weekly- the former face of the franchise hit .286 with three homers and seven RBI, putting him back on pace to hit .250 with 30 HR and 110 RBI.  He’s also on track to strike out 188 times (he’s currently tied for the  league  lead at 137).  All while the Phillies sink into the Wildcard quicksand.

Last Week’s Heroes- Juan Soto hit .368 with three homers and six RBI while Trea Tuner (.304) and Adam Eaton (.400) each scored seven runs. Erick Fedde and Joe Ross may be the back end of this rotation, but each tossed six scoreless innings at San Francisco.

Last Week’s Humbled- Sean Doolittle and Fernando Rodney had late-inning hiccups Friday and Saturday against the Mets. Brian Dozier went 0-for-14 at the plate while Matt Adams went 5-for-21 with nine strikeouts.

Game to Watch- Wednesday the Nats wrap up their series with Cincinnati as Stephen Strasburg (14-5, 3.72 ERA) faces midseason pickup Trevor Bauer (10-8, 3.74).  It’s also the final game for the Reds in DC, meaning Marty Brennaman will say one last time, “So long, everybody” as he closes the broadcast.  The longtime announcer is calling it a career after 46 years with the team.

Game to Miss- Marty’s final tour distracts the faithful from another disappointing campaign;  the Reds haven’t had a winning record or made the playoffs since 2013 (a Wildcard loss to Pittsburgh).  In his first 23 years at the mic, Cincinnati posted 16 winning records and finished first or second in the division 15 times while winning three World Series (two via sweep).  Over the last 22 and a half years (including this season’s 56-60 start) the Reds have finished over .500 just five times.  Tuesday they pitch Alex Wood, who won 16 games two years ago for the Dodgers but has a 5.65 ERA over three starts.  Watch old videos of the Big Red Machine instead.

Add Juan Soto to the growing Nats’ Injured List.  And Matt Adams.  And–potentially Michael A. Taylor.  And–for a few hours–the flight from Philadelphia to Milwaukee–the team’s charter plane.  Not to mention their pitching coach:  sayonara Doug Lilliquist, welcome Paul Menhart.  The Nats aren’t just minus their opening day #2 through #5 hitters, but they’re also without their best bat off the bench (who had been forced into a starting role) and potentially their best defensive outfielder (we await the moment when Taylor is put on the IL).  Not helpful in the early season when one has yet to find itself.  The team that had issues getting away from .500 (nine times in April) is now taking serious water (losses in 11 of their last 16 games).  And their gauntlet of playoff teams from last year continues with trips to Milwaukee and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

About that Delay- during a season where the team was expecte to contend yet is five games under .500 in early May, it’s only fitting that the team flight had trouble taking off as well Sunday.  The Nats boarded their team charter at 6:30 p.m. but mechanical issues kept them on the tarmac for eight hours. They finally deplaned at 3 a.m. (wondering when the peanuts ran out) and went back to their hotel before flying later in the morning.  On a trip where there are no off-days, this was beyond not ideal.  Fire up the espresso machine in the visitor’s clubhouse.

Dissecting the Division- the Phillies move a game and a half ahead of the pack at 19-14 while the Braves and Mets stand between the Phils and Nats.  Atlanta appears to be in better shape for the long haul, as the Mets’ -23 run differential ranks 12th in the National League.  Miami remains the floor that nobody can possibly touch.

Bryce’s Bat- the former face of the Nats is hitting .233 with six homers and 21 RBI, and that’s while batting .321/2/7 against his former team. Harper’s 43 strikeouts are tied for the fifth most in the majors and he’s getting booed semi-regularly.

O’s Woes- the Birds come home ten games under .500 to a series with the suddenly-hot Boston Red Sox who are finally playing like the defending world champs that they are (12 wins in 17 games).  For the record, this year’s team is four games ahead of last year’s pace at this point–and they’re a step ahead in the rebuilding process.

Last Week’s Heroes- Kurt Suzuki hit .462 with three homers and five RBI while Howie Kendrick hit .348. Sean Doolittle notched a pair saves while tossing 2.1 scoreless innings and Kyle Barraclough threw three scoreless frames over three appearances.  Stephen Strasburg reached the 1,500 strikeout milestone by whiffing nine over 6.2 innings in a sweep-averting victory against St. Louis.

Last Week’s Humbled- Joe Ross allowed seven earned runs over 0.2 innings (94.50 ERA for those without calculators) while Matt Grace posted a 10.38 ERA.  Carter Kieboom suddenly looked like a rookie while hitting 2-for-23 while Michael A. Taylor went 0-12 with five strikeouts before injuring his wrist.

Game to Watch- the Nats are 1-10 in series openers and are also 1-6 in games where Max Scherzer pitches.  They’ve also plated just 10 runs in his last four starts.  Monday the Nats meet Milwaukee after getting uneven rest while also dealing with a ton of injuries. Let’s just say I’m curious to see how they react.

Game to Miss- they wrap up their roadtrip and series in Los Angeles Sunday.  Boys and girls of all ages, let’s take the day off from the Nats Rollercoaster and celebrate mothers everywhere.  Happy Mother’s Day.