"I've been feeling good, I'm having fun and learning every time out there," Ross said. "I missed a lot of time in the middle of the season. But I'm definitely happy where things are."
Ross tossed seven scoreless innings on Saturday and the Padres got a big swing -- and a big defensive play, too -- from rookie second baseman Jedd Gyorko in a 2-1 victory over the Rockies at Petco Park.
Ross didn't figure in the decision, as the Padres (64-77) lost a one-run lead when the Rockies (66-77) scored in the eighth inning, but Gyorko's opposite-field homer in the bottom of the inning allowed them to reclaim the lead, putting them in position for a rare series sweep on Sunday.
For everything Ross did well, and for Gyorko's big swing off reliever Matt Belisle, things might have been different if not for two defensive gems -- a catch by Will Venable that turned into an inning-ending double play in the seventh inning and a masterful deke by Gyorko on a double play to end the game.
With the Padres ahead by a run and Ross inching closer to the finish line, Todd Helton hit a ground-rule double to start the seventh inning. After Ross struck out Nolan Arenado on a high fastball, Yorvit Torrealba lined a ball to right field. Venable made a sliding grab and doubled Helton off second base to end the inning.
"That was a game-changer right there," Ross said of the catch.
Then, after Michael Cuddyer singled off closer Huston Street in the ninth inning, Arenado lifted a one-out fly ball to center field. Cuddyer took off for second. As he prepared to slide, Gyorko stood next to the bag, looking as though he was prepared for a throw. Cuddyer paused, giving center fielder Alexi Amarista time to catch the ball and throw to first.
"You do it with the hope it helps," Gyorko said. "Alexi made a good throw. … Sometimes, something as simple as that can make a difference in a game."
And sometimes a mid-90s fastball and hard slider are enough to carry a pitcher far, as Ross found out. Ross allowed three hits, walked two and struck out five. He has pitched exceptionally well since moving back into the rotation in July, posting a 2.16 ERA in nine starts. Overall, his ERA is 2.79 in 103 1/3 innings.
Ross, who began the season as the team's No. 5 starter, fell out of the rotation in April after suffering a subluxation of his left shoulder while hitting in a game.
"He's gotten better. They've made some adjustments with him. The slider has been a plus pitch, and he's throwing the fastball on both sides of the plate," said Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. "The slider has always been there. But his fastball command -- and if you'd ask him, he'd say the same thing -- has improved."
Even so, manager Bud Black, when asked for his appraisal of Ross' start, said that he has seen better -- yes, better than seven scoreless innings.
"This might sound contradictory, he threw seven scoreless and gave up three hits, but I think there has been times when he's thrown the ball better," Black said. "It's a great sign that he was able to do what he did tonight.
"I really like the consistency of his delivery. He repeated it all night long, and I didn't see him coming out of his mechanics. You're seeing more consistency with his ball-strike ratio. It was another great step."
The Padres got a run in the first inning against Rockies pitcher Tyler Chatwood, but not much else. And that run came on an infield single by Amarista. Chatwood allowed one run on five hits in six innings, with two walks and two strikeouts.
With his team trailing, 1-0, in the top of the eighth inning, Rockies pinch-hitter Ryan Wheeler reached on a fielder's choice and was replaced by pinch-runner Charlie Culberson, who stole second base. DJ LeMahieu then singled to left off reliever Luke Gregerson (6-7), and Culberson scored when catcher Nick Hundley dropped the throw from left fielder Chris Denorfia.
But in the bottom of the inning, Gyorko greeted Belisle (5-6) by jumping on a first-pitch fastball, a high, towering fly ball to right field that kept carrying and carrying on a warm (77 degrees at first pitch) and humid night.
"I wasn't sure if it was going to get out," Gyorko said. "When it's a little warmer, it seems like the ball travels well. Hopefully, it stays warm the rest of the year."