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Ross struggles in return to beloved hometown

Righty surrenders six earned over three IP, faces uncertain future in rotation
MLB.com @JamalCollier

OAKLAND -- When the Nationals sent Joe Ross to the Minors at the start of last month, manager Dusty Baker issued him a challenge. Baker wanted Ross to make it back to the Majors in time to pitch on this road trip with a week-long stay in the Bay Area that would carry extra meaning for Ross, who grew up in Oakland and went to high school less than four miles away from the Coliseum.

However, Ross' first start here as a Major Leaguer here was a disaster. He gave up seven runs (six earned) in three innings in the Nats 10-4 loss to the A's on Saturday afternoon.

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OAKLAND -- When the Nationals sent Joe Ross to the Minors at the start of last month, manager Dusty Baker issued him a challenge. Baker wanted Ross to make it back to the Majors in time to pitch on this road trip with a week-long stay in the Bay Area that would carry extra meaning for Ross, who grew up in Oakland and went to high school less than four miles away from the Coliseum.

However, Ross' first start here as a Major Leaguer here was a disaster. He gave up seven runs (six earned) in three innings in the Nats 10-4 loss to the A's on Saturday afternoon.

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"It's on me," Ross said. "I didn't really give us a good chance to win. Seven runs in the first three innings? Probably not gonna do it."

The issue for the Nationals is that it continues a troubling trend in what has been a difficult 2017 for Ross. In his last two starts, Ross has surrendered 12 runs (11 earned) on 18 hits in seven innings. He is sporting a 7.34 ERA overall in six starts and has given up 43 hits in 30 2/3 innings this season.

There were flashes of brilliance when Ross was going well in this game, such as his five strikeouts and eight swings-and-misses on his slider. However, when he falls behind in the count and leaves the ball out over the plate he is paying for it. After surrendering a pair of two-run homers in the first inning -- to Jed Lowrie and Ryon Healy -- he has given up nine homers this season, already matching a career high in just six starts.

When Ross struggled this badly earlier in the season, Washington optioned him to the Minors to work on his mechanics and produce some consistency with his arm slot. But Baker did not think Ross had any mechanical issues Saturday, and both he and Ross viewed his struggles against the A's as an isolated incident, unrelated to the rest of the year.

"It just seemed like Joe was fighting Joe," Baker said. "He wanted it so bad, and between innings he was upset about the last inning. Then he would go out and look like he was fighting Joe ... I know how bad he wanted to pitch well here in Oakland, especially with his parents and family and everybody here.

"He was fighting Joe. When you're fighting yourself, that's more psychological than it is physical."

It raises the question of how long the Nationals will chose to stick with Ross as their No. 5 starter. After his early exit, Jacob Turner came on in relief. He got through the first three innings scoreless, before surrendering back-to-back homers to Yonder Alonso and Healy in the seventh and was eventually removed with two outs. Still, Turner or perhaps right-hander A.J. Cole at Triple-A Syracuse could serve as options if the Nats believe Ross needs to iron out more problems.

After the game, Baker said it was too soon to talk about that spot in the rotation after the game.

"We haven't talked about it," he said. "The game just ended. Just have to go back to the drawing board and see."

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

Washington Nationals, Joe Ross