MIAMI - Right-hander Joe Ross arrived in a high-leverage situation out of the bullpen Friday night. He threw 96 mph and he threw strikes to get outs.
Where have you been this whole season?
The Nationals didn’t use Ross for 10 days because maybe manager Davey Martinez was waiting for a long-man role for the youngster to materialize, or he wanted to get Trevor Rosenthal on track? But in Friday’s 3-2 loss to the Marlins, Davey found out what Ross can do: a lot.
Ross ended the Marlins’ chances for a big sixth inning. With two runs in, the bases loaded and two away, Ross induced Miami’s No. 3 hitter into a flyout to right field to end the frame. The deficit held at 3-1 and the Nats still had a chance.
Then Martinez let Ross pitch the seventh. He allowed a single but recorded three outs to keep the Marlins from adding on. Then Ross came out for the eighth and notched two more outs. Left-hander Tony Sipp struck out Curtis Granderson to finish off the inning, which is another good sign for a beleaguered bullpen. Sipp has been working to get his shoulder back to full strength.
So could Martinez envision the former starter Ross in a jack-of-all-trades role going forward?
“Yeah, absolutely. I talked to him, we had a great conversation,” Martinez said. “I told him he did an amazing job and from here on out he’ll be used more of a (regular bullpen) guy instead of a long man. If he could bounce back, we’ll see tomorrow how he feels. We’ll go from there.”
Ross said the skipper brought him in after the two scoreless innings to discuss his job going forward as of right now.
“Yeah, that was a first true test of coming in in a sticky situation, but it just comes down to executing pitches,” Ross said of the performance, his first test since April 9. “That’s really all it ever is, as much pressure as there could be. Just staying in the moment, staying calm and doing the job.”
Ross started 48 games (54 appearances) since 2015 for the Nats, but last season he appeared in only three games before succumbing to a torn ligament in his throwing elbow and Tommy John surgery. Now he is back and has worked on his new responsibility of coming out of the bullpen.
“It’s kind of just like the late innings of a start when you kind of run out of gas and have to get yourself out of a jam,” Ross said of coming into a game in the middle innings. “Except you get to come in feeling pretty fresh, so it’s almost an advantage, at least for me. I look forward to it and like the competition of just coming in and having to do a job right away.”
Ross has watched and learned from the veterans, especially Matt Grace, to see what routine works best in getting ready for when the call is made to go into a game.
“He’s been throwing a lot recently, so I kind of pay attention to what he is doing when he gets ready, stuff like that,” Ross said. “I don’t try being too disrupting during the game and what’s going on. Just kind of use my eyes and pay attention. We do a good job of making sure before the game, just everything is ready. I feel pretty good throughout this.
“I’m trying to learn a bullpen routine as far as that goes. But right now, I feel good. Kind of follow the lead of when they start to get loose, obviously, get going and get the body feeling ready, because once the phone rings you got to start throwing. There’s no time, really, for anything else.”
* It was a slow start for second baseman Brian Dozier at the plate this season, but the veteran said he has been working on a few adjustments to his approach. That work seemed to pay a dividend Friday night when he crushed a line-drive solo homer over the left field wall in the seventh inning to cut the Marlins’ lead to 3-2. It was Dozier’s second homer as a National.
“Yeah, it was good,” Dozier said. “(I have been) working on a lot of different things. One of the biggest things is getting off my back side, and it’s been feeling really good the past few games.”
A lot was made about the Nats needing to take advantage of a Marlins team that arrived Friday night with the worst record in the major leagues at 4-15. But it didn’t work out in the first game of the series.
“Division games are important, but at the same time there’s still a win and loss column whoever you play,” Dozier said. “It’s a good thing to kind of see that there’s no let-ups in the league, even though you can always feel like you’re expected to win a game. But this is the big leagues for a reason. Every team has a chance to beat you. That was a showing of that tonight. Got to regroup tomorrow. Still got a chance to win the series, which is always good.”
* Right-handed reliever Austin Adams returned to the Nationals Friday. Reliever Austen Williams was placed on the 10-day injured list with a shoulder problem to make room for the former South Florida Bulls pitcher. Adams has not made any major adjustments since his arrival at Triple-A Fresno on March 13.
“Everything is just the same,” Adams said. “You go out there and do your daily routine and get ready day in and day out, just when your name is called you go out there and do the best that you can do.”
Adams had a rough outing in 2018 that everyone remembers, but admitted he was going through a lot of personal stuff that had his attention at that time.
“I struggled that second game against the Diamondbacks, obviously. You know, whatever,” Adams said. “I would say my spring last year was great. Spring was really good and I had a really, really good Triple-A stint too. I learned a lot. Had some personal things I dealt with. Mother passed away last year during the season, so there were things. My daughter being born. So there were a lot of things going on last year.”
Adams said his solid spring training was about focusing on the next pitch, and making sure it was in the strike zone.
“Strike one. Davey and (pitching coach Derek) Lilliquist really hammered that into me during spring, is strike one is of the utmost importance,” Adams said. “If you get strike one, then we can kind of work from there.
“I learned a lot just slowing the game down and day in and day out being ready.”
Adams pitched in five games without allowing a run over six innings, striking out 12 for the Grizzlies. He pitched in eight games for the Nats in 2017-2018.
* Martinez gave closer Sean Doolittle a well-deserved night off Friday after back-to-back appearances against the Giants. The skipper said he wants his pitchers to tell him if they need a day off.
“For me, honesty is the best policy,” Martinez said. “I tell them all the time. Sometimes you can see, you could tell in their face they’re not really feeling good. And you say, ‘Hey look, you’re down.’ That’s when I got to make a decision and just call it for what it is.”
* Slugger Juan Soto was fine after getting hit on the left wrist Thursday and back in the lineup against the Marlins in the series opener.
“I think that was maybe the first time that he got hit,” Martinez noted. “It comes to a shock to him and me. He says he’s OK. We joked around about it. I said, ‘Well, how’d it feel, bad? That’s was first time.’ He said, ‘Eh, I’m OK’.”