- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 6, 2015

With six innings of one-run ball on Thursday in the Washington Nationals’ 8-3 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks, Joe Ross helped his manager, Matt Williams, make a decision.

Ross will remain in the Nationals’ rotation and make his next start during the team’s California road trip next week. With Stephen Strasburg set to make his first start off the disabled list against the Colorado Rockies on Saturday, Doug Fister will move to the bullpen to make room for Strasburg’s return.

“I feel good,” Ross said. “It’s tough, five great starters that we have and Strasburg coming back, so for me to stay, I’m obviously going to gladly take the role and continue to try to help the team.”

Strasburg is set to rejoin the team after recovering from a left oblique strain that led to his second trip to the 15-day DL this season. He threw 85 pitches and struck out 11 batters in a rehab start at Triple-A Syracuse on Monday and felt good on Thursday, a day after he threw a bullpen session.

Ross got through six innings on just 89 pitches, 62 of which were strikes. He gave up only five hits while walking none and striking out seven. The Diamondbacks had tailored their lineup to face Ross, sitting their top two hitters, Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock, in order to send up five lefties against him. Entering the game, left-handed hitters were batting .300 against him, while righties were managing just .165. No right-hander has an extra-base hit against Ross this season.

Four of his five hits came against lefties on Thursday, but so did five of his seven strikeouts. Switch-hitter Jarrod Saltalamacchia, batting from his left side, got the lone run of the day off of Ross when he sent an 85 mph changeup left out over the plate out of the ballpark.

“He was in command again,” Williams said. “The homer to Salty [was unfortunate], but that was it. I thought he threw all of his pitches well for strikes when he needed to, worked quickly, and again, continues to pitch well for us.”

Other than that, Ross gave up nothing. He got out of the fourth inning in nine pitches. He recovered from Saltalamacchia’s home run and the single to Yasmany Tomas that followed by striking out Oscar Hernandez on a series of pitches low and away, finally getting him on an 83 mph slider. A sacrifice bunt by the pitcher and a line drive to Ian Desmond ended the inning.

Ross has now pitched 45 innings through seven starts in the majors this year and holds a 2.80 ERA. He’s struck out 47 batters and walked four.

Before the game, Williams said that the team would likely make a decision about Strasburg’s return and the state of the rotation that day.

Fister, who normally watches games he isn’t pitching in from the dugout, watched the game from the bullpen, conversing with bullpen coach Matt LeCroy.

“He wants to pitch,” Williams said. “He is willing to do whatever he can to help us win so he was out there today, and he’ll continue to be out there and get innings where we can get him innings. But he’s a team guy. He’s ready to pitch at any moment.”

Fister, though proven, has struggled this year with his command, particularly with a sinker that he has been unable to keep down in the strike zone. He has a 4-7 record through 15 starts and a 4.60 ERA. He was 16-6 with a 2.41 ERA for the Nationals last year, when he finished eighth in National League Cy Young Award voting, and owns a career 3.44 ERA. He’s six walks away from his 2014 total of 24, but 50 strikeouts away from that year’s total of 98.

Williams said that it could be a challenge for Fister, who has been a starter his entire career, to move into a relief role. Williams said he plans to use him in long relief opportunities.

Ross was thankful that Fister was willing to accept a new role.

“You know, I need to go thank him, obviously, because I’m sure he could have just said, ‘I want to stay,’” Ross said. “For me to get the opportunity to stay starting and for him to choose the role of going to the bullpen, it’s great. Anything we can do to win games and make a good playoff run.”

Ross has never pitched more than 122 1/3 innings, and Williams said that Fister could possibly return if the team needs to limit the rookie’s innings later in the year.

Ross now has pitched 121 innings this year, and after his last six, he’s headed for more.

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