Davey Martinez has made no secret about his desire to use Joe Ross as his No. 5 starter. While acknowledging the open competition that also includes Erick Fedde, Austin Voth and perhaps even Rogelio Armenteros taking place this spring, the Nationals manager has openly stated he wants Ross to prove he’s earned the job.
But in their evaluation, Martinez and new pitching coach Jim Hickey need to consider not only Ross’ performance but the state of his arm after he opted out of the 2020 season. They don’t want him to throw too much too soon.
“Our concern is - and sitting down with Hickey - (Ross) didn’t pitch last year,” Martinez said today from West Palm Beach, Fla., during a Zoom session with reporters. “He had no volume. We have to be very careful. I know it’s been (3 1/2) years since he had Tommy John (surgery), but we want to keep him healthy.”
Though he threw 104 combined innings between the majors and minors in 2019, Ross’ year off alters his projections to some extent. The Nationals aren’t about to let the 27-year-old loose and hope for the best. They’re going to ease him back in and then perhaps push him harder once he proves he can handle it.
Ross is well aware of the predicament. He knows he needs to be careful not to succumb to the obvious excitement of his return.
“I would say the biggest thing is probably just kind of pacing myself as far as live BPs and stuff like that as far effort,” the right-hander said. “Because I think the adrenaline is probably going to be through the roof once I do get a batter or someone in there. So just being mindful of that, and then the normal buildup as innings and stuff go. Just listening to my body and not getting overly excited with being back.”
Ross, who threw his first bullpen session Friday, said things have gone smoothly so far. The strangest part of his return has been off the field as he reconnects with teammates, coaches and others he hasn’t seen in a year, and as he gets used to the protocols everyone else already had to deal with in 2020.
It’ll be some time before the coaching staff needs to start making decisions about the competition for the final rotation spot. Ross may be the preferred choice, but nobody is just handing the job to him.
“The beautiful thing is that we have Voth and we have Fedde,” Martinez said. “So it could be a combination of the three of them. We don’t know yet. We’ll see how Joe gets through spring training and how we can build him up. But I like all three of these guys, and at any given point they’re all going to help us at some point. I know that.”
* With three days of camp completed, every healthy pitcher has now thrown off the mound with one exception: Javy Guerra. The veteran reliever remained home in Arizona to be with his wife as she prepared to give birth.
Martinez said Guerra, who is back for a third season with the Nats, but will need to make the roster off a minor league contract, is scheduled to arrive in West Palm Beach on Monday.
* Tickets for Grapefruit League games at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches went back on sale this morning. The stadium briefly began selling tickets a few weeks ago but had to cancel that process after Major League Baseball decided to alter the exhibition schedule to eliminate long road trips for teams.
Anyone who previously bought tickets will need to get a refund for them and buy new tickets for the revised schedule of games. Only a limited number of seats are being sold, per local government regulations, and fans may only sit in small pods with family members who buy tickets as a group.
More information on spring training tickets can be found here.