Ross lands on IL but expected to return after break

The Nationals have been talking for months about the need to monitor Joe Ross’ workload after the he opted out of the 2020 season. They weren’t necessarily planning to give the right-hander time off right now in advance of the All-Star break, but when he reported tightness in his forearm following his between-starts bullpen session Wednesday, it was an easy decision for the club to take him off the active roster.

Ross was placed on the 10-day injured list with right elbow inflammation before tonight’s series finale in San Diego, a transaction that was backdated to Wednesday and would make him eligible to return as soon as July 17, the Nats’ second game back from the All-Star break.

Reliever Ryne Harper, who had been optioned to Triple-A Rochester only Tuesday when Kyle Finnegan was activated off the IL, was recalled and will be back in the bullpen tonight at Petco Park.

Thumbnail image for Ross-Throws-Gray-Side-PIT-Sidebar.jpgManager Davey Martinez said Ross, who struck out 11 batters over 6 1/3 innings in a hard-luck loss to the Dodgers on Sunday at Nationals Park, reported the issue after Wednesday’s standard throwing session. He was examined by a doctor in San Diego who diagnosed only the elbow inflammation and “wasn’t very concerned about it.”

Nonetheless, the club decided to go ahead and place Ross on the IL now and not take any chances.

“As we’ve talked before with him, not pitching all of last year, we just want to be very cautious and keep an eye on this thing,” Martinez said in his pregame Zoom session with reporters. “So we put him on the IL to get some of the swelling down. And hopefully it’s just one start that he misses.”

After electing not to participate in the shortened 2020 season out of health concerns during the pandemic, Ross returned this season recognizing his workload might need to be monitored. He has now thrown 87 1/3 innings over 16 starts, already approaching his 104-inning combined total between the minors and majors in 2019.

With that in mind, Martinez has mentioned several times over the last few months that Ross might need to take a planned break at some point this season to preserve his arm. With the All-Star break looming next week, this made for an opportune moment to do that, but the Nationals expected the 28-year-old to start Saturday in San Francisco until this ailment cropped up.

“Honestly, this was not planned,” Martinez said. “He threw his bullpen, he said his forearm felt funny and he did have some inflammation. We were hoping we’d get another start from him before the break. But because of the All-Star break, he has a chance to rest and recuperate. And hopefully we get him back after the break.”

The Nationals won’t find themselves scrambling to fill Ross’ rotation spot for the weekend, because they actually have six starters at the moment, with Erick Fedde returning from an oblique strain earlier this week.

It’ll be Paolo Espino starting Friday night’s series opener against the Giants, with Jon Lester likely to start Saturday (provided he came out of today’s bullpen session fine) and Fedde now pitching Sunday’s first-half finale.

The Nationals can then use the All-Star break to reconfigure their rotation and decide how they want to proceed when they reconvene next weekend in D.C.

“I think the All-Star break is definitely coming at a good time,” Martinez said. “We’ve got to finish out these four games. San Diego’s a good team. We go into San Francisco, and they’re playing well. We’ve just got to finish strong and then get some time off. It couldn’t come at a better time for us right now.”

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