Notes: Ross solid in debut; Lester returns

March 8th, 2021

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- It had been nearly a year since made his last start in Spring Training and a year and a half since he made a spot start in Game 5 of the 2019 World Series. On Monday, Ross returned to action for the Nationals after electing not to play last season.

“The last time,” Ross paused to ponder, “honestly, I would say it feels like it was two, you could even say three years ago. It feels like a long time.”

Ross faced seven batters and threw 39 pitches over 1 2/3 innings in the Nats’ 9-5 win over the Mets. He struck out three and walked one while allowing one run and one hit.

“He looked very comfortable,” manager Dave Martinez said. “Still got a long way to go, but for the first outing facing another team, he threw the ball really well."

The 27-year-old right-hander felt himself rushing through his mechanics at times, but he actually was more nervous to come back from Tommy John surgery in 2018 than he was after this past year off. Having thrown three live batting practices already this spring helped alleviate that anxiousness.

“I guess I wasn’t as jittery, to be honest, as I was expecting myself to be,” Ross said. “I felt pretty good, stuff was good. I was kind of missing up in the zone with my fastball early on. I tried to make the adjustment. Then my changeup was pretty good today, so I’m pretty happy with that.”

Ross is competing with Erick Fedde and Austin Voth for the fifth starter spot, a role for which he was the top candidate last season. While a final decision has not been made for the Opening Day roster, the Nats plan to keep Ross on schedule, aiming to get him five starts in Spring Training. The goal for his next outing is 50 pitches.

Between now and April 1, Ross wants to work on his comfort out of the windup, pitching efficiently with runners on first and “tinkering” with his breaking ball.

“I felt good today,” Ross said. “And it feels good to be back and pitching again.”

Lester returns
Jon Lester is back in camp with the Nationals after undergoing thyroid gland removal surgery in New York on Friday. Martinez said the 37-year-old southpaw was experiencing soreness at the site of the incision, but he was excited to rejoin the team.

Lester was scheduled to meet with trainers on Monday to evaluate his return to throwing. He had built up to 50 pitches prior to the procedure.

“He was well on his way to being prepared [for] Opening Day,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “We'll see how fast he can build back up, and -- between the training staff and the pitching staff -- we'll make a good, prudent decision with him.”

Strasburg to debut Tuesday
The Spring Training debuts continue this week. Stephen Strasburg is slated to start on Tuesday at 6:05 p.m. ET against the Astros. This will be his first appearance in a game since Aug. 14. Strasburg underwent surgery to alleviate carpal tunnel neuritis in his right hand, and he was limited to five innings in 2020.

The Nationals will keep a close eye on the 32-year-old right-hander in game action. They hope to ramp him up to the 85-90-pitch range by the end of Spring Training.

“He works diligently on physically keeping his body going,” Martinez said. “Even though the surgery was on his arm, everything else looks great. He worked really hard to get his legs stronger, his core stronger, so he looks really, really good.”