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Nationals’ Joe Ross to start Tuesday vs. Seattle Mariners

Joe Ross will start Tuesday night against Seattle. (Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports)

Joe Ross‘s sabbatical from the Washington Nationals‘ rotation will end Tuesday, when he will start the series opener against the Seattle Mariners at Nationals Park, the team announced Monday. Ross spent most of May in Class AAA Syracuse working to recover lost mechanics after his stuff ceased to move and explode as usual during three starts in the majors. Ross had two encouraging starts in a row for the Chiefs, leading the Nationals to bring him back to the big leagues, restoring the five-man rotation they planned to have all along.

The Nationals did not have to use a fifth starter Tuesday because they had the day off Monday and could have skipped that turn while keeping the rest of the rotation on regular rest. Instead, after a week that required almost all of their starters to push beyond their preferred pitch count thresholds, the Nationals decided to give the other four an extra day of rest by pushing them back. Ross will fill in the extra day.

The 24-year-old never quite looked like himself as he pitched to a 7.47 ERA in 15 2/3 innings over three starts with the Nationals this year. His last big league outing came against the Mets on April 30. Ross did not record an out in the fifth, his slider not sliding, his fastball not sinking. After analyzing the outing, and the mediocre ones that preceded it, pitching coach Mike Maddux and the rest of the Nationals staff concluded that Ross’s arm slot had dropped and sent him to Syracuse to rediscover it. He allowed four runs over 13 innings in his past two outings for the Chiefs, his velocity strong, his slider moving again.

The Nationals must clear space for Ross on the active roster, and will likely option left-handed reliever Matt Grace to do so, as he is one of the only relievers with options who is not completely vital to the bullpen’s day-to-day operations. They will also likely move Jacob Turner back to the bullpen after his second strong start of the season last week in Pittsburgh. Turner has shown himself to be just as effective in short relief roles so far, and the Nationals need as many pitchers who can say that as possible.

Whether Ross is back for good or for another audition remains to be seen, though Dusty Baker has said repeatedly that “we need Joe,” and that he wants him on the big league roster full-time. The Nationals put Ross in Syracuse to begin the season, as they did not need a fifth starter more than once in the first few weeks of the season. When they did call him back, he struggled, meaning he has not taken consistent turns in the rotation yet this year. Ross has a 3.83 ERA in 38 career big league appearances.

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