SAN DIEGO -- If the Padres get their wish this season, they'll get the version of Tyson Ross who established himself as a reliable front-of-the-rotation starter in San Diego from 2013-15. For one night at least, it was just like old times.
Making his much-anticipated return to the Petco Park mound, Ross labored in the early stages of an 8-4 victory over the Rockies on Tuesday night. But he limited the damage in some dicey situations early, before settling in for six innings of three-run ball.
"It's been a long time," Ross said. "I'm happy to be a Padre, and I'm happy to get a win."
It's been two years since Ross last pitched a game for San Diego. On Opening Day 2016, he was roughed up by the Dodgers and was diagnosed with a shoulder injury shortly thereafter. He missed the remainder of the season and underwent surgery to address thoracic outlet syndrome that October.
"I was here for his last Padres start," said former L.A. catcher A.J. Ellis, Ross' batterymate on Tuesday. "It was against the Dodgers, and something didn't seem right when he pitched that day. ... Then to see him come back, get the win today, I couldn't be happier for him."
The Padres decided not to tender a contract to Ross that offseason, and he latched on with the Rangers instead. But Ross never quite returned to his old self, and he posted a 7.71 ERA over 12 appearances for Texas. He was released in September.
Still, buoyed by an offseason's worth of work and recovery time, Ross entered Padres camp optimistic about 2018. He had conversed with left-hander Clayton Richard, who underwent the same surgery in 2014. Richard toiled with three different teams in the Minors before he returned to full strength.
During his recovery, Richard kept a detailed notebook tracking the exact dates of milestones along his recovery. He willingly shared that information when Ross called.
"The biggest thing was: You're not going to feel great when you're healthy," Richard said. "It'll take some time to throw and get your strength back up and feel really comfortable with yourself.
"It was very similar. I remember feeling fine, feeling healthy but trying to create something that just had not come back yet. Be patient with yourself, understand that it's going to take a little bit of time."
Ross earned a rotation spot with an impressive Spring Training. He wasn't quite as sharp on Tuesday night, particularly over the first three-plus innings.
But things began to click for Ross in the fourth. He got Ryan McMahon to swing through a nasty slider at his feet. He'd later get Carlos Gonzalez to do the same. Ross only recorded those two Ks, while walking three. But the outing -- especially the way it ended -- left something for him to build on.
"I kind of lost my control, and I was able to piece it back together and just grind it out," Ross said.
If there's anyone who understands what Ross was like at his best, it's Ellis. During those three seasons from 2013-15, he went 1-for-11 with seven strikeouts against his new teammate.
"When he was locked in, he criss-crossed that outside corner as well as anybody in baseball," Ellis said. "Two-seamer, slider off of that, when he executed, you had no shot. There were flashes of that today. The more he throws, the more he gets going, the hope is we'll see more of that guy."