Despite loss, Joe Ross and his teammates felt confident in rookie’s debut

Right-hander Joe Ross started off well, did what he needed to do and kept the Nationals in the game in his major league debut Saturday versus the Cubs.

Chicago won the game 4-2, but Ross did well for himself and the Nationals. He went five innings, allowed six hits, three runs, all earned, no walks and struck out four. He had to throw 91 pitches in those five innings, 68 were for strikes.

ross-pitching-red-sidebar.jpgThe 22-year-old Ross rolled through the Cubs lineup the first time without allowing a run or a hit. He sent down the first nine batters he faced, earning three strikeouts.

But in the fourth and fifth frames, the Cubs came alive for six hits and three runs. Kris Bryant had a run-scoring single while an inning later, Dexter Fowler and Anthony Rizzo contributed two more RBI base hits.

The Cubs managed three straight hits to start the fourth, albeit the last one was a line shot that caromed off of Anthony Rendon towards Ian Desmond for a base hit.

“First three were good, they got to him in the fourth,” manager Matt Williams said. “It was a situation where we had to hit for him to try get back into the game. He could have gone another one. All in all, I think he threw the ball well. All in all, he was unfazed by the magnitude of it. He went about his business well.”

“It was good. I felt really good,” Ross said. “It was exciting, obviously. I was a little nervous. But it’s the same game going out there you want to pitch. I had great defense behind me. There was a lot of balls hit hard that got picked up or caught that was a little comforting knowing you had the guys behind you like that.

“It was better than I expected the first three innings. The second time through the lineup they kind of I guess picked up what I was doing, what I was throwing, put some better barrels on the ball. It made it a lot tougher for me out of the stretch.”

It has been a whirlwind end of the week for the California native. Ross found out just two days ago he was going to pitch today in D.C.

“It was kind of crazy,” Ross said. “After one of our games in Harrisburg, the pitching coach (Chris) Michalak, pulled me into the office. I thought I was in trouble for something. He didn’t really say what it was off the bat. Him and the manager, (Brian) Daubach, let me know what was going on.

“I was in shock for a good while. I didn’t know what to say. I was happy, but I didn’t smile or do anything, I was kind of stuck. After I called my parents it set in and like hit me that I was coming to D.C.”

Ross’ older brother, Tyson Ross, is a starter for the Padres, who are in Cincinnati for a weekend series. Tyson and Ross’ family, including his parents, were able to see him pitch in his major league debut.

“It was awesome,” Joe Ross said. “I’m glad my parents could come, like that was amazing. He surprised me coming out. I didn’t know until just before the game, so that was kind of extra incentive knowing he was watching in the stands. It was fun.”

Ross said he found out through social media that his brother would be in attendance at the game. He credited watching Tyson and learning from him over the years in helping him feel confident and focused on the hill.

“He looked like he’d done it before,” said Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond. “He looked like he had a brother that is really good at pitching.”

“A lot of deep breaths, to start,” Ross said. “I think starting off the first inning or so with three outs, no hits, walks, anything like that, that’s an immediate confidence booster. Seeing my brother out on the field for a couple years now kind of got me a little ready for what to expect when I get out there.”

Ross also noticed the difference between pitching in a Double-A stadium versus 38,214 on a Saturday afternoon at Nats Park.

“A lot of eyes. A lot of eyes in the stands,” Ross said. “Nothing compares to this, Double-A, whatever level you are at. Kind of gave me a little extra adrenaline going out there. First pitch strike really helped me out.”

Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper smacked a late homer in the loss. The 22-year-old Harper is one to ask about playing in the big leagues at a very young age. It was the first time Harper was on the same major league team with a teammate who was younger than him.

“I thought he was great,” Harper said. “Being able to go in there and punch some strikes in there and have a good first five innings. A couple of hops and a double play ball could’ve gotten him out of there of course, but I thought he threw well. (It’s) very exciting to see a guy like that 95, 96 mph and just turning 22 (years old). He’s going to be good for us and I’m definitely excited.”

“He’s got a lot of good stuff,” Harper continued. “His slider is really good. His changeup is dirty. If he goes like that every day, he’s going to be very tough to face. Especially the older he gets, the more reps he gets out there the more comfortable he’s going to get. It’s a lot of fun to watch.”

“If he’s anything like his older brother, he’s going to be pretty electric, pretty lights out,” Harper smiled.

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