Ross, who has been on the disabled list since July 3 with right shoulder inflammation, has made three minor league rehab starts and threw 60 pitches in a simulated game last weekend. He threw a light bullpen session this afternoon at Turner Field, which would put him on track to pitch in Sunday's game.
Whether he starts or relieves against the Braves, Ross would be held to a low pitch count, perhaps something in the range of 75. But the Nationals know they need him to start facing big league hitters soon if he's going to get enough prep work to be part of the postseason pitching staff.
"I can't give a definitive answer (about Sunday's game)," said manager Dusty Baker, who rejoined the club late this afternoon after going home to California following a death in his family. "I haven't talked to the trainers yet. We're going to try to get Joe in there. ... So we're trying to get him into game shape, game-ready, to help us not only down the stretch but in the playoffs, also. You can simulate all you want, you can go to minor league games, but there's no substitute for big league time and big league games."
With only 16 games remaining on the regular season schedule, Ross probably would be able to make three appearances before the postseason, perhaps enough to build his arm up to 100 pitches. The Nationals, ideally, would like for him to be their No. 3 or No. 4 starter in the playoffs with Stephen Strasburg unlikely to return from his elbow injury in time for the National League Division Series.
Because of his lower pitch count Sunday, Ross would possibly be paired up with another starter who could pitch multiple innings. Among the possibilities: Mat Latos, who departed Monday's start against the Mets with a right hamstring injury but has made progress since. Latos did some hard running this afternoon at Turner Field, evidence the hamstring feels well.
Whenever Ross is activated off the 60-day DL, the Nationals will have to remove another player from their 40-man roster. The only players on the 40-man roster who aren't currently in the big leagues or the DL are infielder Chris Bostick and catcher Spencer Kieboom. The club could transfer reliever Sammy Solis, still attempting to return from shoulder inflammation, to the 60-day DL to clear a spot, though Solis then wouldn't be eligible to return until mid-October.