Joe Ross had put together a couple of rough starts heading into Thursday’s makeup game at home against the Orioles.
The right-hander flew home before the team did Wednesday, arriving at noon local time in D.C.
He got his rest and came out focused in a solid 6-1 victory over the Orioles.
Michael A. Taylor and Stephen Drew combined for three hits and four RBIs, and Trea Turner went 3-for-4 with two runs and matching a club record with three stolen bases as the Nationals evened the season series with the Orioles 2-2, winning for the 13th time in their last 17 games.
Ross tossed 7 1/3 innings, striking out a career-high 12 batters while allowing one run on four hits with no walks. He last struck out more than 10 batters on June 19, 2015, his rookie season, when he dispatched the Pirates 2-1 with 11 strikeouts.
Manager Dusty Baker said Ross was confident and in control because he stayed calm on the mound. Ross controlled the game because of his pinpoint command.
“He was throwing his fastball down and away,” Baker said. “Followed by a slider in the same spot, down and away. Elevating when necessary. He was calm. That’s what stood out.
“He was real calm and we are all proud of him. That’s the Joe Ross we’ve been waiting for.”
Ross got out of the first inning by inducing a pair of weak infield grounders, a single to Mark Trumbo and then an emphatic strikeout looking of Chris Davis.
He then retired the Orioles 1-2-3 in the second, third, fourth and fifth frames. He had four strikeouts after two innings, seven strikeouts after four and 10 after five.
For Ross, it was all about moving the game along.
“I tried to create a good tempo, have a good tempo from pitch to pitch,” Ross said. “Execute and keep the ball down. I kind of made an adjustment from the last couple starts. I felt good out there and we had a really good defense today, so that definitely helped out.”
Ross explained it wasn’t about his arm slot or something more specific mechanically, but more about not forcing his pitches.
“Not really mechanical, just not so much rushing down the mound,” Ross said. “Sometimes you go 2-0 or something like that and you want to rush to throw a strike to get back in the count. Usually it kind of backfires. I did a good job of slowing down today and taking every pitch one by one.”
Catcher Matt Wieters has done a nice job of getting left-hander Gio Gonzalez in a good tempo this season. Gonzalez has responded with a 5-1 record and a 3.03 ERA in 12 starts. Does Wieters have that same effect on Ross as well?
“He called a great game tonight,” Ross said. “Obviously, he knows these games pretty well, so that kind of helps out. I like throwing to him. Gio probably does, too. He’s done pretty well so far. But I think it’s just kind of that confidence you have with the catcher, it kind of helps your tempo and how you feel about your game. Everything kind of rubs off that.”
So was it Ross’ mechanics or the mental side of the game that got him back to where he wants to be?
Wieters believes its most likely a little bit of both.
“Is it the attitude or is it the mechanics that allow him to repeat his delivery like he did tonight?” Wieters asked. “He was in line. He was repeating his delivery every time. Once you do that for couple of innings, that can give you confidence to keep doing that for the rest of the game. He threw the ball great.”
Nationals starters have allowed only two earned runs in their last three starts over 20 1/3 innings. That is an ERA of 0.89 in the last two games against the Dodgers and this win over the Orioles.