Martinez looking to stretch out Ross as season approaches (Nats win 6-5)

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Nationals manager Davey Martinez’s goal for right-hander Joe Ross is to get through three innings today in his first spring training start, a split-squad affair against the Mets on the road.

Ross has appeared in five games in a relief role from February 23 to March 12. He has gone 7 2/3 total innings and has a 1.17 ERA. He has seven strikeouts and walked three.

“We want to stretch him out a little bit,” Martinez said. “See if we can get him three up and downs. We really got to pay attention to his pitch count. We want him to be around 45-50 pitches.”

Because Ross is coming off Tommy John surgery, Martinez is going by the Nats normal rehab protocol with these type pitchers. When Tommy John pitchers recover, the Nats like to ramp up starters from three to four to five innings as the season progresses.

Joe-Ross-throwing-gray-sidebar.jpg“Even though he came back and he feels good we want to keep him that way,” Martinez said. “He’s been good. I want to make sure he starts the season off completely healthy and we go from there.”

Early in camp with Ross returning from Tommy John and the presence of Aníbal Sánchez and Jeremy Hellickson, Martinez considered starting the season with Ross in the bullpen, especially since the 25-year-old was coming off of major surgery. Has the signing of left-hander Tony Sipp changed that thinking in anyway?

“We are still thinking about that,” Martinez said. “And we are also thinking about Joe, what’s best for him. It’s hard saying because of his injury but I still really believe he can start. I really do. It’d be nice if we could get him a little bit stretched out right now and see where we are at.”

But Martinez cautioned that if Ross begins the season in the bullpen, he will still need regular usage. Ultimately, however, they haven’t decided how they will use the starter Ross. This start today will probably help them in deciding where Ross is in his recovery.

“It all depends on how we use him in the bullpen and what we lead with in the bullpen,” Martinez said. “If he’s going to pitch in the bullpen than he needs to pitch. I don’t want him to be a guy that just goes out there and throws two innings one day and can’t use him for two or three days. We are going to weigh that here in the next week and see where we are at and go from there.”

Update: Michael Conforto hit a two-run shot off of Ross in the first. Ross has three strikeouts and no walks through two frames. He has thrown 46 pitches, 34 for strikes.

Nats have three hits: Wilmer Difo, Carter Kieboom and Matt Adams all with singles.

Mid-third, Mets lead the Nats 2-0.

Update II: Ross goes three complete innings, throwing 61 pitches, 44 strikes. He allowed two runs (earned), four hits, one homer, no walks and struck out three.

Mid-fourth, Mets lead the Nats 2-0.

Update III: Hunter Jones singled and Difo tripled off of Mets reliever Luis Avilán in the fifth to gets the Nats on the board.

Mid-fifth, Nats trail 2-1.

Update IV: Spencer Kieboom hit a solo shot in the top of the seventh to tie the game up, but the Mets got the lead back in the bottom half via an Adeiny Hechavarria sacrifice fly to bring in Devin Mesoraco.

Heading to the top of the eighth, Nats trail 3-2.

Update V: After the Nats loaded the bases with nobody out, Tres Berrera and Armond Upshaw hit back-to-back RBI singles to give the Nationals a 4-3 lead. Then, following a walk by Chris Dominguez, S. Kieboom hit a two-run single to left field.

Mid-eighth, Nats lead 6-3.

Update VI: With right-hander Tanner Rainey on the bump, shortstop Adrián Sanchez committed an error that led to baserunners Brandon Nimmo and Rajai Davis scoring in the bottom of the eighth. Rainey later escaped a bases loaded jam by striking out Hechavarria with two down.

Heading to the top of the ninth, Nats lead 6-5.

Final Update: Austen Williams allowed a bunt single to Will Toffey to start the bottom of the ninth, but he settled in to get Nimmo to fly out to center, Davis to strike out looking and Barrera gunned out Toffey trying to steal to end the game.

Nats win 6-5.

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