BALTIMORE - Joe Ross threw off a bullpen mound today, the right-hander's first such throwing session in three weeks, and finally appears ready to ramp up his rehab in an attempt to rejoin the Nationals' rotation for the stretch run.
Ross, out since July 3 with right shoulder inflammation, threw roughly 25-to-30 pitches off the mound in the visitors' bullpen at Camden Yards this afternoon and was admittedly "excited" about how things went.
"It feels really good. That's why I'm pretty excited," he said. "I finally got to throw off the mound, and it's feeling good. Hopefully, it feels good from here."
Ross hadn't thrown off a mound since the Nationals' series in Arizona at the start of the month. That session, which came after two minor league rehab starts, left his arm feeling less than 100 percent, so the Nationals pulled him off the rehab assignment and shut him down.
He began to throw again over the last 10 days or so, and today passed a fairly significant hurdle with no apparent issues.
"As far as what we've been doing, it's basically all the same stuff," he said. "The only difference was the rest time between the two. But, I've been doing all the same things with the trainers, the strength coaches. Otherwise, I think the extra time gave me a little bit of a kick start."
It's not clear yet how soon Ross will be able to begin another rehab assignment and pitch in minor league games, but he expressed optimism it won't be long.
"I don't know exactly how long, but I want to get back on the mound as soon as possible," he said. "I'm feeling better. That's what I'm working towards."
Ross will need to make several rehab starts and build his arm back up to the point where he can throw 90-to-100 pitches in a game again. Given that the minor league season ends the first week of September, he may not have enough time to do that. Manager Dusty Baker has suggested Ross could possibly get some work out of the bullpen in the interim, though he made it clear today the club ideally wants Ross to be in the rotation by season's end.
"I just talked to Joe about it," Baker said. "I just didn't want him surprised that that was the case. We want him if possible, if he's ready, on the playoff roster. That's always a possibility, for a fourth or fifth starter to be in the bullpen, anyways. So, we'll see. We'll see how his progress comes."
Ross said he's willing to pitch in relief, if needed.
"It makes sense," he said. "I know the season's coming to an end for the minor league side. So, if that's what we've got to do, that's what we've got to do. I mean, I'd just be happy being out there pitching. I'll take whatever role I can get for now. But obviously want to try to get back to starting in September, mid-September. That's the goal."