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Ross holds Tigers scoreless in spring debut

Nationals righty allows just one hit over two innings while working on his changeup
Special to MLB.com

LAKELAND, Fla. -- While the Nationals' offense caused plenty of trouble early in Wednesday's 9-1 win over the Tigers, right-hander Joe Ross had no trouble with Detroit in the first two innings.

In those two innings, Ross struck out one and allowed only Nicholas Castellanos' one-out bloop single to shallow right field in the second.

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LAKELAND, Fla. -- While the Nationals' offense caused plenty of trouble early in Wednesday's 9-1 win over the Tigers, right-hander Joe Ross had no trouble with Detroit in the first two innings.

In those two innings, Ross struck out one and allowed only Nicholas Castellanos' one-out bloop single to shallow right field in the second.

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"It's early in spring; they haven't seen much pitching," Ross said of his opponents. "It's more about how I feel out there on the mound, comfort-wise. My command really is the only thing I want to focus on, so I can execute pitches, which I really think I did a better job of in the second inning."

Although Ross faced only seven batters, the Tigers -- who started all Major Leaguers -- made him work a bit, raising his pitch count to 32 for the outing, 20 for strikes.

"I threw under 35 in two innings," Ross said. "I like to get settled in. I felt better probably in the second inning than I did in the first. But overall, I think I did pretty well."

Ross said facing the Tigers' regulars was not necessarily something he had been looking forward to, but the day's results pleased him, including seeing improvement on his third pitch.

"They have some of the best hitters in baseball here, so to go out there and do relatively well for my first outing, it's a little bit of a confidence boost," he said. "I probably threw ... for sure five or six [changeups], maybe seven. I made it a point to try and get some of those in today."

The middle estimate of six changeups among 32 pitches equals 18.75 percent changeups in this outing, more than double the rate Ross has thrown that pitch in either of his first two Major League seasons. According to FanGraphs, Ross increased the use of his slider from 35.6 percent to 39 percent and the use of his changeup from 7.1 percent to 8.8 percent between 2015 and 2016. Ross has said improving his changeup would be a major focus in Spring Training, and he planned to take advice from fellow starters Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg on their approaches to that pitch.

"I think the ratio [today] is pretty good," Ross said. "But as more innings get added on for outings this spring, I'll definitely try to add on and use it more."

Manager Dusty Baker was pleased with Ross' first showing and progress with the changeup.

"I wasn't surprised, because I know all the work he's put in this winter," Baker said. "[The changeup] is the equalizer, especially against left-handers. Last year, he had a little trouble with lefties. ... It's about gaining confidence in that pitch, and the more confident he gets, the more he'll throw it. You hope he doesn't fall in love with it, but he needs to work on it down here in Spring Training. This is where you get confidence in it."

In addition to a goal of 15 wins this season, Ross said he wanted to ensure he would do everything in his power to avoid injury, including some mechanical tweaks. With that in mind, he said he worked on commanding his sinking fastball in this outing as well.

Zak Kerr is a contributor to MLB.com.

Washington Nationals, Joe Ross