- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 10, 2016

Joe Ross hardly had any time to get himself locked in for his first start of the season when he found out he’d have to wait another day.

At 12:17 p.m. on Saturday, the Washington Nationals’ game against the Miami Marlins, scheduled to start nearly four hours later, was postponed. After Ross‘ pitching schedule was interrupted at least twice in spring training because of the weather, he figured another day wouldn’t hurt.

“The first thing Dusty [Baker] said, ‘It always happens to be you,’” Ross said. “But, just another day of rest and I felt pretty good going out there today. I don’t think missing any of those starts really affected me.”

Ross‘ turn finally arrived on Sunday and after one pitch — a 95 mph fastball that Dee Gordon stroked for a triple — the 22-year-old was in a precarious situation. Giancarlo Stanton drove Gordon in with a single, but Ross managed to keep the damage to a minimum. He got Martin Prado to ground into an inning-ending double play and settled in from there.

Over the next six innings, Ross mixed his fastball with sliders and changeups to hold the Marlins scoreless and earn the win in the Nationals’ 4-2 victory at Nationals Park.

“The first inning, he got off to a little bit of a slow start,” manager Dusty Baker said. “When Dee Gordon hit that opening pitch for a triple, sometimes he can ambush you like that. To hold them to one run, I told [Ross], ‘Hey, you just learned damage control today.’ That could have turned into a three-, four-run inning. Damage control is key for a young pitcher. After that, he was masterful.”

Ross cruised through the second and third innings and sat the Marlins down in order. In the fourth inning, after allowing a two-out triple to third baseman Martin Prado, he got first baseman Justin Bour to fly out to center field. Facing a 3-1 count, Ross went back to his changeup to get out of the inning.

“I was pitching a lot with my fastball,” Ross said. “My slider was OK, but I wasn’t getting the chase like I was hoping for. I think I just got into a good rhythm and got comfortable and go from there. Changeup was good … got some big outs with it. Definitely improved [that pitch] from last year and a little bit through spring training.”

The changeup was just one of a few things Ross worked on during the spring. The other was a splitter, a pitch he learned from closer Jonathan Papelbon, but he was reluctant to throw it on Sunday. Ross said it only took him a few weeks to learn the new pitch, though he is not yet at a point where he is comfortable enough to throw it in a close game.

The young right-hander also emphasized keeping a close eye on baserunners, which he did on Sunday. In the top of the sixth inning, Gordon got on base with a leadoff single. Before Ross even threw a pitch to Marlins center fielder Marcell Ozuna, he checked Gordon twice at first base. After a first-pitch strike, Ross attempted a third pickoff throw before striking out Ozuna.

Facing left fielder Christian Yelich, Ross kept a keen eye on Gordon and threw over to first base four more times.

“We were joking in the bullpen if we were in Miami, there’d be cups on the field,” reliever Blake Treinen said. “People would be booing because that’s just how much visiting fans hate when you pick over so many times.”

Finally, Gordon, who stole 58 bases last season, tested his luck and broke for second. Catcher Wilson Ramos delivered a perfect strike to throw him out.

“A lot of long holds, those always affect the runner, affect the hitter,” Ross said. “It’s not too comfortable on the pitcher either. I think the pickoffs got him tired enough where we had a really good chance of throwing him out. Willy made a perfect throw right on the bag. That was huge in that situation. Once he gets on, he can be on third within two pitches.”

Ross finished his outing with another clean inning in the seventh, holding the Marlins just long enough for Nationals left fielder Jayson Werth to drive in the go-ahead run in the bottom half of the inning.

The Nationals know what they have in Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez at the front of the rotation. On Sunday, they got a promising look at what they can get from Ross, even if they had to wait.

“Even besides giving up the one run, the guy did so many things well in the game to give us a chance to win,” said Treinen, who pitched a scoreless eighth inning. “It’s hard to think he’s only 22. He’s a phenomenal talent and it’s going to be exciting to see what he can do this year.”

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