Nats can’t sup­port Ross in de­but

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - CUBS 4, NA­TION­ALS 2 BY CHELSEA JANES

The Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als’ of­fense, which perked up Fri­day, fell dor­mant again Satur­day af­ter­noon when it was un­done by a starter it can never seem to solve.

The Na­tion­als fell, 4-2, to Ja­son Ham­mel and the Chicago Cubs for their sev­enth loss in nine games. But be­neath the of­fen­sive gloom was the ma­jor league de­but of 22-year-old Joe Ross, who was solid in five innings of work.

Ross is a tall and tal­ented right-han­der with a heavy sink­ing fast­ball and bit­ing slider and is the younger brother of Padres starter Tyson Ross. Joe Ross was one of two prospects ac­quired from San Diego in the three-team deal that sent Steven Souza Jr. to Tampa Bay this sea­son. He is also the youngest player to play for the Na­tion­als this sea­son. As short­stop Ian Des­mond said af­ter­ward, Ross pitched like he had done this kind of thing be­fore.

But Ross had never pitched above

Class AA. With his brother join­ing more than 38,000 oth­ers in the stands at Na­tion­als Park, Ross filled in nicely for Jor­dan Zim­mer­mann, who was pushed out of his turn by a rain­out. Ross limited dam­age against an ag­gres­sive Cubs lineup. He left af­ter al­low­ing three runs on six hits and strik­ing out four. The Na­tion­als trailed 3-1 when he de­parted, still within strik­ing dis­tance.

“He looked great. I think a lot of guys in here are ex­cited about him,” Des­mond said. “He’s a stud.”

Ham­mel beat Ross be­cause he held the Na­tion­als (30-26) to one run in eight innings be­fore al­low­ing Bryce Harper his 19th home run of the year to start the ninth. Seven Na­tion­als reached, two by walk and five on hits. Wash­ing­ton’s best chance to rally came as Ham­mel tired in the eighth, when Danny Espinosa led off with a dou­ble. He never moved past sec­ond.

Wil­son Ramos pro­vided the game’s first run in the sec­ond in­ning with his fourth home run of the year and 50th of his ca­reer, a deep drive that car­ried deep into the left-cen­ter field stands.

But the rest of the Na­tion­als strug­gled against Ham­mel, who im­proved to 9-0 in 11 starts against them.

“I mean, he’s one of the best guys in the Cen­tral right now. His stuff ’s been great all year,” Harper said. “. . . He re­ally had com­mand of his curve­ball and his heater and was all-around good to­day.”

Among the most trou­bled Na­tion­als hit­ters is Ryan Zim­mer­man, whom Manager Matt Wil­liams moved to sec­ond in the or­der in search of a spark. Zim- mer­man went 0 for 4 Satur­day, in­clud­ing a three-pitch strike­out with Espinosa on sec­ond in the eighth. Tra­di­tion­ally dis­ci­plined, Zim­mer­man reached for all three pitches and is now hit­ting .213. He was not the only one reach­ing. The Na­tion­als struck out nine times, seven against Ham­mel.

“Strikes— qual­ity strikes— are im­por­tant for us to hit. If we swing at balls out of the zone, you don’t get hits,” Wil­liams said.

As Ham­mel baf­fled the Na­tion­als, Ross bat­tled the Cubs.

Ross used to play ball with his brother and his friends, al­ways the youngest and al­ways com­pet­ing. He be­came the youngest pitcher to throw for the Na­tion­als this sea­son, the sixth to make his ma­jor league de­but and sec­ond pitcher to do so with­out an in­ning of Class AAA ex­pe­ri­ence.

“He wants to win,” Tyson Ross said be­fore Satur­day’s game. “He turns it on to an­other gear when the sit­u­a­tion gets tough.”

Things did not get tough for Joe Ross un­til the fourth in­ning, be­cause he was per­fect through three. He gave up two hits to lead off the fourth, then Kris Bryant hit a ground­ball di­rectly at An­thony Ren­don at third. A bad hop trans­formed a would-be dou­ble play into a sin­gle, no outs and a run. But Ross got a fielder’s choice ground­ball, a strike­out and a ground­out to hold the Cubs to one.

The third time through the or­der, the Cubs ad­justed. Con­sec­u­tive two-out hits added a pair of runs and in­creased Ross’s pitch count. He was fin­ished af­ter 91 pitches and 58 strikes, though he said strike one against the first bat­ter of the game was the most im­por­tant for his nerves. It is un­clear whether Ross will get a sec­ond start for the Na­tion­als, though the team likely will need a starter to fill in for Stephen Stras­burg’s next turn.

The el­der Ross flew in from Cincin­nati on Satur­day morn­ing to sur­prise his brother, hours af­ter pitch­ing San Diego to a win over the Reds. Joe Ross found out his brother would be there just be­fore the game when he saw it on so­cial me­dia. Joe had talked to Tyson ear­lier, and Tyson told Joe to “en­joy him­self out there, don’t try to do too much, pitch his game and re­ally em­brace this mo­ment be­cause it’s a pretty spe­cial mo­ment.”

“That was kind of an ex­tra in­cen­tive,” the younger Ross said. “Know­ing he’s in there, watch­ing in the stands. It was fun.”

When Ross de­parted, fel­low rookie Felipe Rivero re­lieved him. The left-han­der had not thrown more than 11/3 innings in an out­ing this sea­son. He threw three score­less innings Satur­day on 42 pitches. The Na­tion­als could not pro­duce enough to win. They have scored more than three runs twice in their last 12 games.

JOHN MCDON­NELL/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Na­tion­als right-han­der Joe Ross pitched five innings in his ma­jor league de­but, al­low­ing three runs.

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