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Nationals’ Joe Ross will have Tommy John surgery for a second time

Joe Ross's elbow issues will cause him to have a second Tommy John surgery in the past five years. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
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NEW YORK — After gathering multiple opinions on his injured right elbow, Washington Nationals starter Joe Ross will have Tommy John surgery for the second time, Manager Dave Martinez told reporters Tuesday. Ross, 29, is in his final year of team control and is expected to become a free agent in the fall. He will not be able to throw a pitch before that happens.

“No date yet, but he wants to get it repaired and fixed,” Martinez said before the Nationals faced the New York Mets at Citi Field. “And now after the surgery, it’s a whole lot of healing and strengthening to get him ready to get on a mound again as soon as possible.”

Ross’s most recent major league appearance came in a suspended game here Aug. 11. Since, he has been sidelined by a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament, then by having a bone spur removed from his elbow in March. After undergoing his first Tommy John surgery in July 2017, Ross returned about 14 months later. A similar recovery period would keep him out until next summer.

For most of this season, the Nationals had Ross and Stephen Strasburg on identical rehab schedules. But when they each started for minor league affiliates May 24, Ross threw two solid innings, then felt elbow pain in the third. He finished the outing 29 pitches short of Washington’s best-case plan. The immediate MRI exams offered little optimism.

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Still, Ross wanted to talk with a few doctors before making his decision. Now he’s set to have the surgery performed by Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles.

“He got different opinions,” Martinez said. “They all came back the same.”

Even with Ross’s impending free agency, would Martinez, in a perfect world, want to see the righty through his full recovery?

“Absolutely,” he answered. “I’ve talked to him already about what his plans are after the surgery. I told him, ‘I’d love to have you here close.’ He’s got a guy in Dallas he works with religiously, but I would love for [him] to be around the guys and get some work in here, so we can keep eyes on [him]. But we feel like he’s a National. Right now, he still is a National. We’re going to keep it that way.”

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That’s not Martinez saying Ross will be on the team beyond this season. Those sorts of details will be worked out later (though Ross could opt to return on a prove-it minor league contract, giving him and the Nationals a chance to see what’s left in his arm). Martinez’s answer felt more like a good-faith idea — if not a totally realistic one — for a player who has been with the organization since 2014 and started Game 5 of the World Series in 2019.

When healthy, Ross mixes a hard sinker, a slider and a change-up that’s ever developing. But from here, there’s no telling if he’ll pitch for the Nationals again or what his next chance might look like. He has made 76 starts for them across six seasons and has a 4.26 career ERA.