Ross could be headed for Tommy John surgery again

The latest MRI taken of Joe Ross’ elbow ligament showed “a little bit more of a sprain than I had in my previous MRIs,” the right-hander revealed today, making the second Tommy John surgery of his career a distinct possibility now.

Ross, who had to cut short his rehab assignment with Double-A Harrisburg after three innings Tuesday night, is scheduled for more tests Friday before a final decision is made. The 29-year-old and the Nationals are bracing for news he needs ligament replacement surgery again after trying to avoid that last-ditch option since last summer.

“I’m definitely frustrated,” he said. “Just a combination of missing the last five or so weeks last year, then doing all the rehab and going through all that from day one of the offseason, staying down in Florida and watching how this season is going so far, obviously I’d like to provide some assistance by coming back. … So it’s definitely frustrating to go through all that and not be able to assist in the way I would’ve liked, or at least how I was planning to.”

Ross had been diagnosed with a partial tear of the UCL last summer, but doctors determined he could attempt to rest and rehab and avoid surgery. He reported for spring training hoping to open the season on time, but after experiencing more elbow issues learned he had a bone spur that needed to be removed.

Ross started up his rehab process again, throwing alongside Stephen Strasburg for the last two months in West Palm Beach, Fla., and was excited to finally pitch in a competitive game for the first time this week. He said his arm felt strong during his first two innings in Harrisburg, when his fastball reached 95 mph, but he had trouble getting loose in the third inning and realized he couldn’t continue after that frame was over, even though he had barely thrown half of the total pitches (60) he was scheduled for in the start.

“It got to the third inning, and I was supposed to go four,” he said, “and I just told them it didn’t seem like there was a reason for me to go out there for the last inning if that was the case.”

Ross originally had Tommy John surgery in 2017, two years after making his major league debut for the Nationals. He has totaled only 188 innings in the four-plus years since, having opted out of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season and then returning to make 19 starts in 2021 before getting hurt.

Ross is eligible for free agency for the first time in his career at the end of the season, adding another layer of frustration to this process.

“To know what he went through once, and having him this close to coming back, and something happens again? It’s frustrating. It’s tough,” manager Davey Martinez said. “He’s got a lot on his plate. But as soon as we can get him to understand what needs to transpire, the next thing is to just be there for him as much as possible. But he’s got a long road ahead of him. He understands that.”

The news remains far more encouraging for Strasburg, who threw a bullpen session today at Nationals Park following his first rehab start Tuesday night for low Single-A Fredericksburg. Martinez said the 33-year-old right-hander will make another start for Fredericksburg, possibly Sunday, then join the team in New York during next week’s series against the Mets to work out with the big league staff before heading out for his next rehab start.

The Nationals also got encouraging news on Luis García, who had to come out of Tuesday’s game for Triple-A Rochester after a collision at first base. Martinez said the 22-year-old infielder only wound up hyperextending his left arm, and he’s back in the Red Wings lineup tonight.

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