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Nats rethinking Ross' long-man role in bullpen

@JamalCollier
April 21, 2019

MIAMI -- One of the lone bright spots for the Nationals following their 3-2 loss to the Marlins on Friday night at Marlins Park was the performance of right-hander Joe Ross from the bullpen. In a pair of scoreless innings, Ross notched a strikeout and gave up just one hit.

MIAMI -- One of the lone bright spots for the Nationals following their 3-2 loss to the Marlins on Friday night at Marlins Park was the performance of right-hander Joe Ross from the bullpen. In a pair of scoreless innings, Ross notched a strikeout and gave up just one hit.

It was enough to prompt a conversation between Ross and manager Dave Martinez about Ross’ role. Before Friday, Ross had made two appearances and last pitched April 9 since being called up to pitch out of the bullpen, and it appeared he would be used in the somewhat antiquated long-relief role. But Friday’s successful outing might have been enough to change Martinez’s mind.

“I have to look at him more as just a regular reliever,” Martinez said prior to Saturday’s game against the Marlins. “Not just a long man and see what he can do.”

Ross could be a huge help for this struggling Nationals bullpen, which began Saturday with a 7.59 ERA, the highest in the Majors. Washington has struggled finding a reliable setup man ahead of closer Sean Doolittle despite turning to multiple relievers in the role -- Trevor Rosenthal, Matt Grace, Justin Miller and Wander Suero.

Perhaps Ross can provide more consistent results. He is inexperienced as a reliever -- just six of his 54 career big league games have come in relief -- but many teams are finding successful relievers by converting starters to the ‘pen. And Ross has seen a slight increase in velocity coming out of the bullpen this season. His fastball is averaging 94.4 mph, up from 93.1 mph in his return from Tommy John surgery in 2018 and way up from his pre-surgery average at 91.4 mph in ’17. As a reliever, he can lean more heavily on his fastball and slider, his two best pitches while all but ditching his changeup, which he has only thrown 2.8 percent of the time.

And Ross seems to be all in for taking on an increased role.

“It’s kind of just like the late innings of a start when you run out of gas and have to get yourself out of a jam,” Ross said. “Except you get to come in feeling pretty fresh. So it’s sort of like an advantage, at least for me. I look forward to it, and I like the competition of trying to do a job right away.”

However, Martinez does have some reservations. Ross missed nearly all of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in July 2017. He is still only 25 years old, with a history of injuries to his shoulder and arm so the team wants to take care of him. That makes it worth watching whether Martinez will be willing to use Ross in consecutive games or in high-leverage situations to get out of jams.

An outing like Friday could help him earn those opportunities again.

“I’m all for it,” Ross said. “I like to do as much as I can to help the team win in those shutdown innings that we need. Our starters have been going really well, but I feel like late in the game, whatever happens, things kind of fall apart sometimes. But you know, I’m ready.”

Glover joins team in Miami
Nats reliever Koda Glover was back in the clubhouse prior to Saturday night’s game, a chance to get examined by team doctors and spend some time around the big league club. Glover has been rehabbing his right forearm strain at the team’s complex in West Palm Beach, a little more than an hour north of Miami, since he was injured near the beginning of Spring Training.

Glover has still not made much major progress, but he is playing catch and long toss.

“He’s a part of our team,” Martinez said. “We wanted to bring him in for the day, let him throw, catch up with the guys and see how he’s doing. It was good to see him.”

Worth noting
Victor Robles
crashed into the wall in center field in the sixth inning of Saturday's 9-3 loss, chasing down a Curtis Granderson fly ball and fell to the ground, which allowed Rosell Herrera to score from second base on a sacrifice fly. Martinez and head trainer Paul Lessard came out to check on Robles, but he finished the game.

"He was fine," Martinez said. "We were more concerned because he hit the wall pretty hard with his shoulder, so that was the concern. We’ll see how he feels tomorrow as well, but he said he was OK."

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.