After strong Triple-A start, Ross on track to join Nats next week

The Nationals should finally have their regular No. 5 starter pitching for them next week. And, barring some unforeseen complication, for many weeks to come.

After a strong start for Triple-A Syracuse on Thursday, Joe Ross is now lined up to join the Nationals rotation next week and make his major league season debut Wednesday in Atlanta.

Ross tossed seven innings of one-run ball Thursday afternoon at Pawtucket, scattering six hits and striking out six without walking a batter. He threw 85 pitches, building up his arm after a ragged, 2 2/3-inning start to begin his season last weekend.

Joe Ross throwing white.jpgOptioned to Triple-A on the eve of opening day, Ross has been lined up all along to return to the big leagues and start for the Nationals once they need a full-time fifth starter. The latest the team would need that fifth starter is April 22 in New York, but that date wouldn't match up with Ross' throwing schedule.

The target date for Ross to pitch for the Nationals is April 19, which would put him on five days' rest. That also works well within the club's current rotation schedule, with Stephen Strasburg, Tanner Roark and Gio Gonzalez named the starters for this weekend's home series against the Phillies, and then Max Scherzer on turn to start Tuesday night against the Braves at the brand-new SunTrust Park.

Ross would then start the second game of that series in Atlanta, with the Nationals needing to drop another player (most likely a reliever) to clear a spot on the 25-man roster.

Because they knew - with several off-days on the schedule - they would need a No. 5 starter only once in the season's first 2 1/2 weeks, the Nationals elected to option Ross to Syracuse to open the year and keep an extra bench player (though that player, Michael A. Taylor, didn't take his first plate appearance until the team's ninth game).

MLB rules require players optioned to the minors to stay there at least 10 days, unless they're replacing an injured teammate, so Ross was ineligible to pitch for the Nationals last Saturday in Philadelphia when they did need a No. 5 starter. That assignment wound up going to 38-year-old Jeremy Guthrie, who proceeded to get knocked out after allowing 10 earned runs in only two-thirds of an inning.

Guthrie was designated for assignment the following day, with veteran right-hander Matt Albers called up to give the team an extra reliever for now.

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