CHICAGO - When Joe Ross walked the night's first batter, it was immediately noted as out-of-character for the right-hander. When he walked the night's second batter as well, it seemed more than just out-of-character.
And when Ross proceeded to give up two runs in the bottom of the first and then three more in the bottom of the second to the White Sox, the red flag officially was raised on the young Nationals starter.
Ross certainly picked an inopportune moment to put forth his worst outing of the season. With their bullpen already stretched a bit thin following Tanner Roark's three-inning start Sunday in Cincinnati, the Nationals might have to ride their struggling starter longer than they'd like in tonight's series opener at U.S. Cellular Field.
The night began in inauspicious fashion for Ross, who walked leadoff man Adam Eaton on five pitches, then did the same to Austin Jackson. An RBI single by Jose Abreu (off an 0-2 pitch) brought home the game's first run. And then a bases-loaded walk of J.B. Shuck forced home another run during a laborious 39-pitch first inning.
The Nationals did briefly get Ross off the hook with a pair of runs in the top of the second - Anthony Rendon's RBI double to right was the key hit in the rally - to tie the game, but that didn't last long.
Ross immediately got into trouble again in the bottom of the second, hitting Eaton in the foot with a 1-2 slider, then later serving up a home run to Todd Frazier on a 3-0 fastball grooved right down the heart of the plate.
That made it 5-2 White Sox, with Ross' pitch count a staggering 65 after only two frames.
Update: Well, the story of this game has changed just a bit. The Nationals have stormed back, scoring twice in the fourth and twice in the fifth and now lead 6-5 after five. Rendon kept up his hot streak with a two-run homer in the fourth (giving him three RBIs on the night) and Bryce Harper delivered a two-run double (his first two-bagger in 17 days) in the fifth to give the Nats the lead. Ross settled down enough to get through four innings with no more runs on the board, and Blake Treinen just pitched a scoreless bottom of the fifth to keep his team's 6-5 lead intact. For now. You get the sense there's a lot more baseball to be played here tonight.
Update II: And the Nats keep adding on. They scored four more runs in the sixth, making it 10-5. Michael A. Taylor's two-run double was the big blow, with old pal Zach Duke throwing more gasoline on the fire by hitting Daniel Murphy and walking Wilson Ramos with the bases loaded. The Nats have scored 10-plus runs in back-to-back games for the first time since April 28-29, 2015 at Atlanta, better known as The Dan Uggla Game.
Update III: Treinen just threw three scoreless innings on 66 pitches. That's ... something, I guess. Not sure what to make of it, to be honest. Also not sure why Yusmeiro Petit hasn't appeared in this game. He hasn't pitched since Friday. Odd. Anyway, it's still 10-5 Nats after seven innings.
Update IV: It's over. Nats win 10-5 in a nine-inning game that nearly required four hours to complete. Petit did wind up appearing in this one, pitching the ninth after Oliver Perez tossed a scoreless eighth. The Nats bullpen as a whole churned out five scoreless innings to help make this victory possible.