Nats can’t support Ross in debut
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.
Nationals right-hander Joe Ross pitched five innings in his major league debut, allowing three runs.