At the conclusion of his news conference late Saturday night, Nationals Manager Dusty Baker finally halted the speculation and dropped the news that Stephen Strasburg would start in Washington’s Sunday matinee against the Cincinnati Reds.

But there was a catch: The Nationals were unwilling to reinstate Strasburg from the 15-day disabled list until he warmed up Sunday. If his upper-back strain remained a non-issue, then he would be activated and a corresponding roster move would follow. If not, Lucas Giolito would made his second career start.

At 1:35 p.m., just as Strasburg took the mound, the Nationals announced their final decision: Strasburg was officially on the roster and Joe Ross, who labored through 5 1/3 innings Saturday, was placed on the 15-day disabled list with right shoulder inflammation.

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“We wanted to make sure Joe is gonna be ready toward the end of the season and we didn’t have to shut him down like Strasburg, because this guy can come up big in the postseason,” Baker said after the Nationals’ 12-1 rout of the Reds on Sunday.

Ross maintained that he was healthy when he spoke to reporters after encountering early struggles  and yielding a career-high 10 hits for a second straight start in Saturday’s 9-4, 10-inning loss, but his velocity declined precipitously over the course of the outing — from 95 mph in the first inning to 89 mph by the fifth. Baker said the drop was why he removed Ross after just 84 pitches and said “we’re look into it, some things” when asked about Ross’s health after the game.

Baker then requested that Ross be honest with him, and the 23-year-old hurler admitted that discomfort had surfaced during Saturday’s outing, which impacted his command. He underwent an MRI exam Sunday, and it revealed the inflammation.

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“You want to compete. You want to be out there. You want to help your team win. It’s not fun,” Ross said. “It’s already hard enough to sit for four days between starts. To skip that fifth one is pretty tough, but it’s going to be the most beneficial health-wise and for the team. But I just keep it honest with him and he’ll shoot it straight with me.”

The Nationals are notoriously cautious with their young, promising pitchers, and they’ve handled Ross with care this season. They skipped his turn when he wasn’t needed to limit his workload earlier in the season and don’t want to push him. The right-hander logged 152 2/3 innings between the minors and majors last season, his most as a professional. Through 16 starts this season, he has pitched 95 1/3.

“Joe’s a valuable piece of this team for a long time,” Baker said.

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Because of the all-star break, Ross could miss just one start if he is reinstated immediately when eligible. That outing will be Thursday against the Mets in New York. Giolito is expected to slide into Ross’s spot in the rotation and make the start after making his major league debut against the Mets in Washington on Tuesday. A long rain delay cut his outing short to four scoreless innings.

“Fortunately for us, we have Giolito there to take his place,” Baker said.

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