Ross, out since July 3 with right shoulder inflammation, came out of today's session with live hitters reporting no issues.
"Joe, he looked very good today," manager Dusty Baker said. "I think he threw 35 pitches or something like that, consecutive pitches. So that's a pretty good sign. He had good velocity, good slider, and barring any setbacks he might go out this weekend to pitch somewhere."
Given the layoff, Ross will need to ramp his arm back up into midseason form, capable of throwing 100 pitches in a big league game again. He's likely to need multiple rehab starts, then, perhaps throwing 50-to-60 pitches in his first outing this weekend and then building up to 75-to-80 in another.
Which means the Nationals figure to need someone else to start in Ross' place at least twice more after Reynaldo Lopez debuts tonight against the Dodgers.
Both manager Dusty Baker and general manager Mike Rizzo said the club will see how Lopez emerges from his first career start before deciding how to proceed. They purposely have Lucas Giolito on the same schedule as Lopez and Ross at Triple-A Syracuse, in case a swap is necessary.
Rizzo suggested Ross will get his job back as soon as he's healthy, though he didn't rule out either Lopez or Giolito remaining in the Nationals rotation if performance warrants it.
"I think Ross is the most established out of the three," Rizzo said. "We've always said he's got the makeup of a 10-year veteran, and he's a guy that's certainly not intimidated by the atmosphere and being in the big leagues. With that being said, we've got three elite candidates who are 22-year-old pitchers, and they look pretty good."
The Nationals' depth at that position could prove valuable for them in the next few weeks, with young pitchers perhaps being used as trade bait before the August 1 non-waiver deadline.
Rizzo, though, suggested that's not in the club's immediate plans.
"We're going to be open to the trade market," Rizzo said. "But the guys that you're talking about are certainly guys that we like and we're probably not going to move."