Ross sharp vs. Tigers regulars in first start of spring

LAKELAND, Fla. - Joe Ross hadn’t taken the mound yet this spring to face another team, so when he arrived at Tiger Town this morning and saw a Detroit lineup featuring the likes of Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Ian Kinsler and J.D. Martinez, he couldn’t help but hope he wasn’t in for a long day.

“I wouldn’t say I was looking forward to it,” Ross said with a smile. “But it’s good to see those guys that I’m sure I’ll face during the year. And they’ve got some of the best hitters in baseball over here. To go out there and do relatively well for my first outing, it’s a little bit of a confidence-booster for myself. I’m sure I’ll face some more ‘A’ lineups coming up, but yeah it was good.”

It was more than good. Ross looked awfully sharp for a first outing of the spring. He retired six of the seven batters he faced, allowing only Nick Castellanos’ bloop single in the bottom of the second during a scoreless start in the Nationals’ 9-1 victory.

Ross-Throws-Red-Sidebar.jpg“Very pleased,” manager Dusty Baker said of the 23-year-old. “He threw strikes. He threw effortlessly. He looked like he’d been out there before. I wasn’t surprised because I know how hard he worked this winter. But he threw well.”

Ross has plenty of time to build his arm up and get himself into regular season form, but these early spring outings could be key in helping him set a positive tone for the coming year. After spending 2 1/2 months on the disabled list in 2016 with a shoulder injury that proved more difficult to overcome than initially suspected, Ross is determined to make through this entire season in better shape.

“I think staying healthy is probably going to be my biggest goal for this year,” he said.

How does one do that? Obviously there are things out of a pitcher’s control, but Ross believes the best thing he can do is maintain a consistent throwing and conditioning program in between his starts, the kind of monotonous work that is no fun to perform but pays dividends over the long haul.

“It’s almost staying on myself, holding myself accountable to get my work in, stay on my routine,” he said. “It’s easy to have those long days where you get in late, and the next day you don’t want to do much on the field. So I need to stay on top of myself, hold each other accountable. Because there’s times when you can see someone else not feeling great one day and you’ve got to get on them to get after it. And I’m sure it’ll be the same thing, a couple days later somebody getting after me.”

Ross also mentioned the importance of not overthrowing, something he worries he may have done at times last season. To that end, he is trying to incorporate more changeups into his arsenal this spring, throwing as many as seven of them among his 32 overall pitches today, including many to right-handed batters.

Baker called that pitch “the equalizer,” another look Ross can use to complement the fastball-slider combo that has worked well for him since he debuted in 2015.

And if Ross can both effectively add the pitch to his repertoire and keep his arm healthy enough to pitch a full season in the big leagues for the first time, what might he be capable of doing in 2017?

“I don’t know if I or he know exactly what he can do yet,” Baker said. “We probably won’t know what he’s capable of doing for a couple more seasons. Right now, I’m going to apply enough pressure to have him achieve goals, but not so much pressure that it puts too much pressure on him. And I don’t know how much pressure he can handle right now. What did he pitch, half a season? So I’m still learning Joe Ross. I know I love what I’ve seen so far.”

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