Right-hander Joe Ross took a big step in his return from Tommy John surgery by going five full innings in a game and pitching very well.
But getting greedy, he certainly would have loved to pitch for the win. He left with a no-decision Thursday. The Cubs edged the Nationals 4-3 in 10 innings.
“Just being back says a lot. Not enough, but a lot,” Ross admitted. “I would have liked to go a little deeper in the game. Unfortunately, I wasn’t really getting ahead in certain situations, then my spot came up in a big spot. Andrew [Stevenson] came in with the clutch hit. Hopefully, next time I can get ahead a little bit better and pitch deeper into the game. The first complete game back, feel pretty good about myself.”
For the first time since July 9, 2017, Ross started and handed in a major league outing, scattering four hits and allowing two runs with two walks, a hit batter on 74 pitches over those five frames. He fired 47 strikes.
He still isn’t getting that minus-10 mph pitchers covet on a changeup. But he still is using the pitch a lot because he is liking the movement it’s giving him and the difference it shows the hitter versus the fastball.
“I would say the velocity difference really hasn’t gotten better,” Ross admitted. “If anything, it’s been closer to the fastball. I definitely think more movement and more consistent this year than in the past. So, still need to try to take some off. As far as action goes, I’ve been feeling pretty good about it.”
To see him pitch as well as he did, to consistently fire his fastball at 94 mph and touch 95 mph, is pretty amazing, considering he could barely throw the ball to home plate in those first days back from rehab on the field with his physical therapist.
“Definitely felt weird. At the time, the PT I was working with, he reminded me of a client he had before. He said his first throw he threw it off his own leg. I figured anything better than that was a good start. I yanked it a little bit. But he caught it, so first throw was a success, I’d say,” Ross said with a smile.
Ross had shared his anxiety those first few days of rehab when he looked at his arm after surgery and was glad it was still attached. But could he ever pitch at an elite level again? That was where the anxiety built up from in his stomach. That was the bigger question.
“I had been itching to throw for a little bit. Just doing all the PT every morning, stuff like that. When the time comes, it’s like tick, tick, tick [raising arm], is it going to boom or is it going to be OK? But it was all right. Ever since then I’ve been feeling pretty good.”
But through all the physical rehab and the strengthening of his arm and shoulder, he also concentrated on whole-body strengthening and rehab too. That has made a difference, he believes.
“Yeah, definitely. Everyone has their offseason to work on the things they need to fix,” Ross said. “I had five or six extra months down in Florida to kind of get everything going and feeling as good as possible.
“Not having to grind out the season with them. I would have liked to be here. But, having that extra time to kind of work in the gym and feel as best as I can coming back, along with giving my arm some time to rest and come back, has been big, I think. I’d much rather been playing. But at the time, you take advantage of what you can do with the time off that I had.”
And now he will have the opportunity to build on this no-decision start, a start in which he allowed a first-place team only two runs in five innings some 14 months after last competing in a major league game.
Thursday’s result was a gigantic stepping stone up for a pitcher recovering from Tommy John. Now he has a shot at two or three more starts before the regular season wraps, which is an opportunity to solidify his spot in the rotation for 2019 and prove he can pitch at an even higher level for years to come.