Ross joins bullpen after red eye from Fresno (Nats up 12-6)

NEW YORK - Desperate for bullpen help only a week and a half into the season, the Nationals have promoted one of their standby starters from the minors to take over a relief role.

Joe Ross, who was supposed to open the season in the rotation at Triple-A Fresno, was recalled today, with infielder Adrián Sanchez optioned to Double-A Harrisburg to clear a roster spot. Ross, who had been scheduled to make his first start of the season Monday, instead took a red-eye flight from Fresno to New York (connecting through Chicago) and arrived at Citi Field about two hours before first pitch of today's series finale against the Mets.

And the Nationals won't hesitate to put him on the mound later today if the need arises.

Ross-Throws-Gray.jpg"I spoke to Joe, and he's a reliever," manager Davey Martinez said. "He's going to come out and he's going to pitch. I told him there will be some days when he comes out and he just pitches one inning, and, if we deem it necessary, where he could pitch multiple innings it would be great. But he's a reliever. And he's going to pitch. And he's all for it."

Long touted as a potential long-term rotation member for the Nationals, Ross has made 48 starts in his career and only three relief appearances (all at the end of his rookie season in 2015 when the team was monitoring his workload). He returned from Tommy John surgery last September and made three starts down the stretch, and the Nats intended to have him start every fifth day in Fresno until a need arose in the big league rotation.

But the failures of the Nationals bullpen through seven games - they enter play today with a majors-worst 10.02 ERA and three blown saves - left the club with a more pressing need.

"For us, we wanted to get him stretched out and pitching a little bit," Martinez said. "But the necessity is, and what he can help us do is he can help us right now in the bullpen. And that's where we see he fits."

It's unclear how exactly Ross would be used if needed as soon as today, but the Nationals likely have to stay away from Justin Miller and Tony Sipp, who each have pitched three of the last four days. Kyle Barraclough and Matt Grace have appeared in five of the team's first seven games.

Trevor Rosenthal, whose inability to retire any of the seven batters he's faced to date has been a major contributor to the current dilemma, has not pitched since Wednesday. The struggling setup man probably is going to have to take the mound again soon, possibly today.

"I talked to him this morning," Martinez said. "And I told him: 'We need you. I wanted to give you a couple days off.' But he's been working on some things. If today is a day that we feel like he needs to pitch, then he's going to pitch."

Until things sort themselves out, the Nationals will be stuck without defined roles in the bullpen, aside from closer Sean Doolittle.

"I want to give these guys defined roles," Martinez said. "But then again, it's not really up to me. It's what they do. When they're pitching well, yeah, they're going to get defined roles."

The decision to demote Sanchez to clear a spot today instead of another reliever leaves the Nationals with a four-man bench and no true backup shortstop. If something happened to Wilmer Difo (who is replacing the injured Trea Turner), Martinez said Anthony Rendon would play shortstop and Howie Kendrick would play third base to finish out that game.

The Nationals could then recall Sanchez from Harrisburg (which obviously is much closer than Fresno) in time for the next day's game.

Update: This game is off to a wild start already. The Nats busted out for five runs in the top of the second off Zack Wheeler, and wouldn't you know the first RBI came from Max Scherzer on a bases-loaded single? Yes, the first run the Nats scored this season while Scherzer was in the game came via a Scherzer RBI hit. And they kept adding on, with Victor Robles notching an RBI single, Adam Eaton driving home two more with a double and Kendrick bringing home the fifth run on a sacrifice lineout.

The Mets, though, came right back against Scherzer and scored in the bottom of the inning (with some help from Eaton, who made an over-aggressive mistake on a sinking liner to right, first trying to make a diving catch and then trying to make a tough throw to second that wound up sailing to the backstop.

But just when it looked like Scherzer was in trouble, the Mets bailed him out with one of the strangest plays you'll ever see. With two on and one out, Keon Broxton struck out on a ball that got away from Kurt Suzuki. Broxton took off for first, and both runners tried to advance as well. The problem: A batter can't try to take first base on a strikeout when that base is occupied and there are fewer than two outs. So now the runners were at their own risk, and when a confused J.D. Davis stopped halfway between first and second, he was tagged out to complete a truly bizarre 2-5-6 double play. After all that, the Nats lead 5-1.

Update II: Make it 7-1 after five innings thanks to another bases-loaded rally by the Nats when Wheeler lost all command. He walked four batters in the inning, including Suzuki to force in a run. Then reliever Tim Peterson came in and let another run score on a wild pitch. The Nats have seven runs via four hits and eight walks.

Update III: Make it 9-1 after six innings. The Mets pitching staff simply can't find the plate today. After Wheeler walked seven batters in 4 2/3 innings, Peterson walked five more in only 1 1/3 innings. The Nats are taking full advantage of it today.

Update IV: Just when you thought it was safe to peek out from behind the curtains, this thing is getting a little scarier than it should have been. Rendon's three-run homer gave the Nats a 12-1 lead in the seventh and looked like the death blow. But Scherzer gave up three hits in the bottom of the inning, and then Matt Grace gave up an RBI single and a three-run homer. It's 12-6. Unreal.

Up 11 runs in seventh, Nationals hang on to win (u...
Nationals recall Joe Ross

By accepting you will be accessing a service provided by a third-party external to