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Ross credits changeup, running with success

Nats righty, coming off 4 strong starts, started new endurance program
MLB.com @JamalCollier

WASHINGTON -- Dusty Baker has been encouraging all of his pitchers to do more long-distance running in between starts, especially right-hander Joe Ross. Baker points to some of the best pitchers he has played with and managed -- Ferguson Jenkins, Bobby Welch, Don Sutton, Tommy John, Johnny Cueto and Max Scherzer -- and each of them ran (or run).

So Ross has adjusted his workout regime to incorporate more running in between starts, and that along with increased confidence in his changeup has helped Ross settle in during the past month. Although he had to work his way out of some jams early, he limited the Mets to two runs in seven innings in the Nationals' 11-4 victory Tuesday at Nationals Park.

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WASHINGTON -- Dusty Baker has been encouraging all of his pitchers to do more long-distance running in between starts, especially right-hander Joe Ross. Baker points to some of the best pitchers he has played with and managed -- Ferguson Jenkins, Bobby Welch, Don Sutton, Tommy John, Johnny Cueto and Max Scherzer -- and each of them ran (or run).

So Ross has adjusted his workout regime to incorporate more running in between starts, and that along with increased confidence in his changeup has helped Ross settle in during the past month. Although he had to work his way out of some jams early, he limited the Mets to two runs in seven innings in the Nationals' 11-4 victory Tuesday at Nationals Park.

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After a three-week stint in the Minors, Ross struggled with his stamina during the middle innings of his first few starts upon his return. He would seemingly tire quickly, as his velocity dipped and his command wavered. But on Tuesday, he threw a career-high 114 pitches and finished stronger than he started, pointing to the increased running routine as a boost.

Video: NYN@WSH: Baker discusses the Nats' win over the Mets

"Because you know third time through the lineup you sometimes get a little tired later in the games," Ross said. "I think it's been helping. Recently I've been feeling pretty good and feel like I'm staying stronger into the sixth, seventh inning, which is obviously going to help close out a good start."

In his past four starts, Ross has lasted at least six innings and given up two earned runs or fewer in each one, posting a 2.36 ERA during that span. It has lowered his season ERA from 6.39 to 4.86.

A major part of his improved performance has been the development of his changeup, a pitch he has become more comfortable throwing recently. Nineteen of his 114 pitches (16.7 percent) on Tuesday were changeups, and 13 percent of his pitches during the past four starts have been changeups. That's a significant upgrade over his first eight starts this season, when he threw just 4.9 percent changeups.

"How many people pick up a pitch in the middle of the season, and have the confidence enough to throw it?" Baker said. "Most of the time, that confidence comes over the winter and Spring Training."

"Obviously I've had more success with it the last couple starts, so I feel more comfortable," Ross said. "But just overall with my stuff, I feel like I've performed overall better. And the changeup has definitely played a big part of it."

Video: NYM@WSH: Ross strikes out Bruce swinging

The Nationals' rotation has long been one of their strengths, and Ross is giving them even more stability. Two-fifths of the rotation -- Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg -- are headed to the All-Star Game. Another, left-hander Gio Gonzalez, has made a strong case to join them. If Ross has settled down from his shaky start to begin the season, it gives them another starter to help keep the pressure off their bullpen.

And although this season has been a bit inconsistent for Ross, 24, the learning experience has helped him grow and develop as a pitcher.

"I feel like it kind of takes the experience of going through the lineup and making good pitches and getting beat on mistakes," he said. "Or sometimes you go to the well too often, try to go the same sequence, and they're making adjustments, too. It's a game of cat and mouse. But I've been feeling better about that the last couple games, and I think it's paying off."

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

Washington Nationals, Joe Ross