Joe Ross’s first start in more than a year ended after five outs Friday night, with a rain delay every radar in the area predicted but that Major League Baseball seemed determined to push through. Twenty three minutes after the game started — an hour and 20 minutes after it was supposed to start — the umpires called for the tarp again, their only defense against a drenching rain that struck just when most forecasts predicted it would.
Both teams waited through three more hours of rain before the league finally called the game. It will be made up as part of a single-admission doubleheader Saturday, beginning at 3:05 p.m. Max Scherzer will start the opener for the Nationals.
Tickets for Friday night’s game will not be honored Saturday but may be exchanged for a game at a later date.
MLB controls these decisions at this time of year. The Cubs do not come back to Nationals Park again this season, so scheduling make up games is, at best, difficult. In choosing to start the game when they did, they forced both teams to burn their starters — Cubs veteran Jon Lester and Ross, making his first start since Tommy John surgery in July 2017.
Fourteen months later, Ross returned to the mound with a 96-mph sinker. His promise is built on that pitch and his slider, his potential dependent on his ability to develop something more. He said earlier this week he feels better about his change-up than he did before the surgery, and if that is true, he could have a three-pronged arsenal good enough to make him the rotation stalwart the Nationals have long thought he would be.
About three years and three months ago, Ross made his major league debut against the Cubs. He was a sudden call-up from Class AA then, a less-heralded part of a young pitching generation that included Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito, among others. Now, he is one of the few young arms left that could help this rotation sooner than later. Like 26-year-old Erick Fedde, the 25-year-old Ross is still young — but not so young that he qualifies as a promising prospect anymore.
Ross has some runway because of the surgery. The franchise knows better than almost any other that the first few months after returning from Tommy John do not necessarily indicate what will happen a year or so later. True recovery takes far longer than anyone wants it to, and Ross probably will be able to do different things on the mound by the start of next season than he is able to do right now.
He looked fine for the inning and two-thirds he pitched before the tarp came out again. It stayed there all night, plenty long enough that the Nationals could not bring him back safely.
Then, after nearly three more hours of delay, the rain finally stopped. And MLB called the game. Both teams waited until long past a normal game would be completed, only to have the game canceled anyway. Any if anything sums up the grueling agony of this Nationals season, it is that.