Ross endures rough night in DC

Righty yields four homers, but Soto, Bell end slumps

April 20th, 2021

WASHINGTON -- In a season wherein the Nationals’ pitching staff has taken an early hit, Joe Ross had been consistent in his first two scoreless starts.

The right-hander took the mound at Nationals Park on Monday night for the first time since his gutsy spot start in Game 5 of the 2019 World Series. But the Cardinals didn’t take long to snap Ross’ 12-inning scoreless streak, en route to handing the Nationals a 12-5 loss.

“I just wasn’t really executing my pitches,” Ross said. “[I was] leaving the fastball up, and I was getting hit hard, making mistakes. I’ve got to be better with location and work ahead to stay ahead.”

After a 1-2-3 first inning, Ross gave up a homer to Paul DeJong in the second. That set the stage for back-to-back home runs from Tommy Edman and Paul Goldschmidt in the third, capped off by a DeJong grand slam in the fifth.

Ross exited the game after 4 1/3 innings, having allowed 10 runs off eight hits (including four homers), three walks and five strikeouts over 85 pitches (57 strikes). It was a stark contrast to his first two outings, in which he allowed six hits, three walks and nine K's across 11 frames.

“He came out the first inning and he was lights out,” manager Dave Martinez said. “I thought, 'Man, this is going to be a good day.' Then all of a sudden, he got up, the ball got flat on him. Just a tough day for him. Hopefully he learned something today [and bounces back], because we need him.”

Ross’ hot start to the season had been especially notable because he elected not to play in 2020, and it would not have been unexpected for him to show signs of rust. His efficiency, though, was a welcome bright spot in Washington's starting rotation that has struggled in April and leaned on an increased workload from the bullpen. (On Monday, utility man Hernán Pérez pitched the ninth.)

Stephen Strasburg (0-1, 6.30 ERA) was placed on the 10-day injured list due to right shoulder inflammation on Sunday. Patrick Corbin (0-2, 21.32 ERA) allowed a career-high 10 runs on Thursday against Arizona, and Jon Lester has yet to be reinstated from the IL (COVID-19 protocols) to make his season debut.

“At the stage where we’re at, we haven’t had starters go deep,” Martinez said. “[Our bullpen] is getting taxed. They’re pitching way, way too much. So we’ve definitely got to keep an eye on these guys, or we won’t have a bullpen.” 

Quieted bats make noise

Juan Soto and Josh Bell entered Monday on three-game hitless skids. For the 22-year-old Soto, it was only the fourth time in his career that he had gone hitless in three straight games. The Nationals’ Nos. 2 and 3 hitters got back into rhythm with a double each.

“I think I’ve been hitting the ball hard, just not in the right places,” Bell said. “It was nice to get on top of that ball [and] hit it down the line today. Hopefully, I can build off of that.” 

Soto and Bell combined for three of Washington's five runs. It was a step in the right direction for the team that has been hungry for offense, tied for 27th in run production (51).   

“We get those two guys going, we’re going to score some runs,” Martinez said.

When you think you’ve seen it all

Memorable rundowns have been making headlines this week -- the funny interaction between Anthony Rizzo and Freddie Freeman in the Braves-Cubs matchup went viral on Sunday. In the fifth inning, veteran catcher Yan Gomes found himself in the mix of baffled baserunning. Watch as he had his pick of runners to pick off.