Joe Ross had set himself apart as the top candidate for the Nationals’ fifth starting pitcher in 2020 before he elected not to play last season, and that focus hasn’t changed for ‘21.
“It’s definitely still the goal,” Ross said on Saturday.
Ross is in the mix with fellow right-handers Erick Fedde, Austin Voth and Rogelio Armenteros for the remaining spot in the rotation. Voth held the role in 2020, and he struggled his first season as a full-time starter. The competition is expected to play out in Spring Training.
“Right now, it’s wide open,” manager Dave Martinez said. “But I’m sure one of these guys is going to step up by the end of spring, and we’ll have to make a tough decision.”
Martinez said this offseason that he would like Ross to be a member of the starting rotation, but there are health factors to mind with the 27-year-old right-hander.
“Our concern is -- and sitting down with [pitching coach Jim] Hickey -- he didn’t pitch last year. He had no volume,” Martinez said. “We have to be very careful. I know it’s been [3 1/2] years since he’s had Tommy John, but we want to keep him healthy.”
Ross is aware of pacing himself and listening to his body as he works toward building up his innings and throwing live batting practices. He pitched off the bullpen mound on Friday, and Martinez said he threw “really well.”
“Everything so far has been going great,” Ross said. “It's kind of a normal -- quote, unquote -- Spring Training as far as being back on the field and stuff like that.”
Ross is 21-17 with a 3.91 ERA over 57 career starts. His most recent appearance in a non-Spring Training outing was Game 5 of the 2019 World Series, in which he made a spot start for Max Scherzer.
“It is kind of a funny thought that the last real game [was] probably the biggest game of my career,” Ross said.
Gomes ‘excited’ for increased playing time
With the departure of Kurt Suzuki in free agency, Yan Gomes has been tasked with catching more for the Nationals than he has in the past. Martinez projected it will be in the range of 100 games, and Gomes is up for the assignment in his 10th season.
“I was obviously excited about it,” Gomes said. “It’s something that I’ve done in the past -- that was kind of my job in Cleveland. I go into the offseason the same way I go every offseason, especially this one: prepping myself to catch as many games as I can. Maybe this offseason I tried to come in a little lighter with the expected workload. But I’m ready to go. I know Davey’s going to do what he has to do to get as many games as he can for me.”
Gomes was behind the plate for 97 games in 2019 and 30 games in the shortened '20 season. Prior to joining the Nats, he caught 100-plus games in three of his six seasons with the Indians, including 112 games in '18. He sees a correlation between playing time and performance.
“To be honest, I do better when I’m catching consistently, so it’s not like ramping up,” Gomes said. “I had to kind of try to get used to that last year. My body still felt great. But I don’t think it’s going to be something that’s going to be new to my body. I’ve done it before, and my body usually actually feels better that way.”
Washington signed Alex Avila this winter to share the catching duties with Gomes this season. He played 23 games for the Twins last year.
“We’ve got a good veteran with Avila, so it’s going to be a fun time,” said Gomes.