WASHINGTON -- The Nationals are defined by the strength of their pitching, with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin anchoring the rotation and Sean Doolittle rounding out the back end of the bullpen. And yet, no one from that cast of pitchers owns the longest scoreless-innings streak of the
WASHINGTON -- The Nationals are defined by the strength of their pitching, with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin anchoring the rotation and Sean Doolittle rounding out the back end of the bullpen. And yet, no one from that cast of pitchers owns the longest scoreless-innings streak of the season for Washington.
Instead, that feat belongs to Joe Ross, who carried a streak of 17 1/3 scoreless innings into the seventh inning on Tuesday night against Cincinnati before shortstop Jose Iglesias snapped the streak with a run-scoring single. Still, Ross flummoxed the Reds’ offense throughout his outing, yielding one run on five hits in 6 2/3 innings to lead the Nats to a 3-1 victory at Nationals Park.
“You see him kind of getting that swagger, that confidence on the mound,” second baseman Brian Dozier said. “He's doing what he's supposed to do, which is really cool when somebody kind of gets that. He stepped up big for us tonight.”
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It marked the third straight start that Ross has stepped up for the Nationals at a time when his contributions are even more critical. He is filling the rotation spot left vacant by Scherzer, while he recovers from a muscle strain in his upper back. Prior to the game, Scherzer threw a simulated game, a big step forward in his recovery.
Depending on how his back feels on Wednesday, Scherzer could be poised to return to the rotation as soon as his next turn in the rotation, a welcome addition for Washington. But this recent resurgence from Ross and Erick Fedde allows the Nationals some time to remain patient with Scherzer. Ross and Fedde have combined to go 5-0 with a 0.90 ERA in their five starts this month, helping the Nats keep pace in a packed National League Wild Card race.
“I guess it's just more timing than anything,” Ross said. “I wouldn't say I ever really doubt myself, but with Max being out and hopefully he'll come back soon, I’m not sure exactly what he's planned for, but I mean it's been good for us. We're in a tight race.”
The turnaround for Ross, pitching in his first full season recovering from Tommy John surgery, has been even more unlikely considering his tumultuous first half that continued through the end of July.
Ross spent the first half of this season bouncing between opposite sides of the country with different roles on the staff, from a starter for Triple-A Fresno to a reliever in D.C. and back and forth again and again. At the end of July, he carried a 9.85 ERA.
Then, after a few adjustments at the urging of the Nationals which altered his mechanics and pitch mix slightly, Ross has found himself settling into a groove in August. He has allowed one run in 18 innings this month (0.50 ERA), lowering his season ERA to 5.91 at the conclusion of this outing.
“He's throwing the ball right now about as good as I've seen him from the other side,” manager Dave Martinez said.
Ross began the season down on the depth chart among Nats starters, in part because the team wanted to protect his arm following his Tommy John surgery, but his performance recently has helped him begin climbing his way up. And now even when Scherzer comes back, Ross could have a strong case to remain a part of this rotation as Washington’s fifth starter.
Robles notches another outfield assist
For the second straight night, the Reds decided to test Victor Robles’ arm in center field. And for the second night in a row, Robles made them pay.
In the sixth inning, Jose Peraza attempted to go from first to third base on a single into the right-center-field gap from Jesse Winker. Robles ranged to his left to scoop the ball, gathered himself and unleashed a 97.3-mph strike toward Anthony Rendon at third base, who delivered a perfect tag to record the out.
“When you make those kind of throws, it's, 'Wow, what a great throw,'” Dozier said. “But even better is when you're moving left to right, especially when you're going left as an outfielder and you have to come back toward third base, that's really impressive, because that's really all arm strength. He showed it off. Just as good as the throw was Rendon's tag.”
It was Robles’ ninth outfield assist of the season, matching Jackie Bradley Jr. of the Red Sox for the most among Major League center fielders. Robles also set a Nationals (2005-present) record for most outfield assists by a center fielder in a single season.
“To be honest, when you’re not afraid to make plays, then good things happen,” Robles said through an interpreter. “And I’m definitely not afraid to make things happen.”
Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.