Ross gives up rare homer off slider (Nats lose 5-4)

Joe Ross has stared down plenty of challenges already this season, his first full campaign in the major leagues, and has emerged on top the majority of the time. Tonight’s challenge, though, ranks among the toughest he’s faced to date: A Tigers lineup loaded with talent and experience.

Ross held his own early on in the second game of this interleague series, but then he left a slider over the plate to Nick Castellanos in the top of the fourth and watched the Detroit third baseman crush it into the left field bullpen at Nationals Park.

Ross-Throws-White-Front-Sidebar.jpgHow unlikely was Castellanos’ two-run shot? It was the first home run surrendered by Ross this season - he was the only remaining qualifying starter in baseball who had yet to give one up - and it came on his most effective pitch.

Opponents had been just 3-for-38 against Ross’ slider entering tonight’s game, all three hits singles. Castellanos changed that in a hurry, though, hammering the 1-1 pitch over the plate deep to left to give the Tigers a 2-1 lead.

Facing rookie right-hander Michael Fulmer, who is making only his third career start, the Nationals have given themselves some early chances. They loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the second, setting the stage for Danny Espinosa to rope a single past second baseman Ian Kinsler and bring home the night’s first run.

But with a chance to add to that early 1-0 lead, the Nationals left the bases loaded. Ross struck out swinging, then Ben Revere grounded out on the first pitch he saw to end the inning.

The Nats had another chance in the bottom of the third, when Anthony Rendon led off the inning with a line drive single. Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman each hit the ball hard to the left side of the infield, but shortstop Austin Romine made nice plays on each to deny base hits, Zimmerman’s sharp grounder turning into an inning-ending double play.

Update: The good news: Zimmerman finally followed up a Harper walk with a big hit. A really big hit: a two-run homer that Zim admired for a second or two. That’s not something he usually does, but you can certainly understand how good that felt for him. It gave the Nats a 3-2 lead.

The bad news: The Tigers got three runs back in the top of the sixth, and not without controversy. Ross gave up four singles and a walk in the inning but might have escaped it with only one run scoring when Anthony Gose tried to break up a double play by sliding well wide of second base. Gose never came closing to touching the bag. The Nats challenged the call, but umpires in New York said the runner “did not hinder or impede the defender,” which apparently is enough to make the call hold up. Making matters worse, the Tigers added on after that, with pinch-hitter Miguel Cabrera driving in another run. So all of a sudden, the Nats trail 5-3 heading to the seventh.

Update II: More good news: Zimmerman is getting hot. He just homered for the second straight at-bat, this one an absolute laser into the Red Porch seats in left-center. That homer has trimmed the Tigers’ lead to 5-4 after seven.

Update III: That’s a final. Nats lose 5-4. They nearly tied it in the eight when Clint Robinson roped a double to center, but the Tigers cut down Ramos at the plate on a close play. Then they had a shot in the ninth, with two on and one out after Rendon doubled and Harper was intentionally walked. But Zimmerman, who homered in his previous two at-bats, struck out on a changeup from Francisco Rodriguez, and then Murphy sent a flyball to center for the final out.

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