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Listening to others was key to Ross' growth in '13

Padres righty spent time in rotation and 'pen, but he's now ready to start full-time

SAN DIEGO -- Pitcher Tyson Ross ended the 2013 season precisely where he started it -- as a member of the Padres' starting rotation.

It's what happened in between April and September that rates not only as interesting for Ross, but also of vital significance in terms of his development as a pitcher.

On Wednesday at Petco Park -- where the team is preparing for Saturday's FanFest event -- Ross was asked where he made his biggest strides in 2013.

"It was just my growth [as a pitcher] during the season," Ross said.

No more so than in April, when Ross opened the season by making three starts before landing on the 15-day disabled list with a subluxation of his left (non-throwing) shoulder, an injury that occurred when he swung the bat in a game against the Dodgers.

When Ross returned from the disabled list in May, he was sent to the bullpen. He didn't pout. Instead, he made it a point to become a sponge, soaking up as much information that he could -- from starters and relievers alike.

"I learned a lot from those guys out there," Ross said of his fellow relievers. "I learned how they attack the strike zone. I learned a lot from Luke Gregerson and his slider, where he likes to start it for a strike, and where he starts it for a ball.

"And I learned a lot from watching the starters, too. How they went about their business. It wasn't ideal that I got hurt … but I felt that it gave me the opportunity to try to adapt some things to my game in the second half."

Ross eventually rejoined the starting rotation on July 23, and he never left. He went 3-4 over 13 starts from that point on, posting a 2.93 ERA, as opposing hitters produced just a .201 average against him. Ross allowed two or fewer runs in nine of those 13 starts.

"It's not a comfortable at-bat when he's pitching," said Padres catcher Nick Hundley.

On Sept. 7, Ross tossed seven scoreless innings in a victory over the Rockies. He impressed Padres manager Bud Black, his teammates and even Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.

"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," Tulowitzki said at the time. "The slider has always been there. But his fastball command -- and if you'd ask him, he'd say the same thing -- has improved."

To be sure, Ross learned a lot and improved leaps and bounds from the start of Spring Training in 2013, his first with the Padres after he was obtained from the A's in a trade in November 2012. A lot of that improvement falls on Ross' shoulders, but pitching coach Darren Balsley made a difference, too.

"I can't say enough great things about Darren Balsley. He's been great for my career," Ross said. "I think I'm just starting to scratch the surface in terms of the things he's taught me. He's given me a solid foundation of what it takes to become a successful starting pitcher."

Unlike last year, when there were questions of whether Ross would make the rotation out of Spring Training, he'll be an important part to a rotation that also includes two other pitchers with swing-and-miss stuff: Josh Johnson and Andrew Cashner. Ian Kennedy and Eric Stults round out the rotation.

"It should be a much easier transition," Ross said. "Now I've got a good idea about the chemistry of the team and where I fit in."

On Wednesday, Ross threw lightly off the mound to Hundley as several players took part in a photo shoot. Soon enough, Ross and Hundley will play a type of catch that rates far more important.

"I've definitely missed it," Ross said. "I'm looking forward to getting out to Arizona and start playing again."

Corey Brock is a reporter for Keep track of @FollowThePadres on Twitter.
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