Joe Ross followed in his brother Tyson's footsteps straight to the DL in 2016, as shoulder issues cost him 10 weeks over the summer, but his overall numbers were similar to his rookie performance. His BABIP spiked and took his WHIP with it, but his K/9, BB/9 and HR/9 rates were all right in line with 2015. Left-handers still punished him to the tune of a .356 wOBA, as he has yet to find an offspeed pitch that can give them trouble. The biggest concern with Ross remains his long-term health, considering Tyson's career arc and the similarities in their builds and mechanics on the mound. The Nationals are counting on a healthy Ross to shore up the middle of their rotation. His 93-mph fastball, excellent slider and work-in-progress changeup should be up to the task. The long-term health risks are certainly legitimate, but in single-season leagues, the younger Ross deserves another look at a clearance price.
Ross allowed four runs (two earned) on six hits and a walk while striking out three in 4.2 innings during Saturday's Grapefruit League game against the Astros. His defense did him no favors Saturday, but Ross still has a strong 2.70 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 11:3 K:BB through 13.1 spring innings. The 23-year-old seems nearly ready for Opening Day, and if he's able to stay healthy in 2017 he should be able to approach 30 starts and 200 innings for the first time in the majors.
Ross held the Astros scoreless for four innings, allowing two hits and a walk while striking out four, in Sunday's Grapefruit League game. He was throwing to new Nats catcher Matt Wieters for the first time in a game setting, so his strong performance was doubly encouraging. Ross now has a 2.08 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 8:2 K:BB through 8.2 spring innings, and seems ready to hit the ground running once Opening Day rolls around.
Ross tossed 2.2 innings in Tuesday's Grapefruit League game against the Red Sox, allowing two runs on three hits and a walk while striking out three. The runs scored on back-to-back solo homers by Mookie Betts and Hanley Ramirez, as Ross found himself fighting his mechanics a little on the mound and wasn't able to locate his pitches effectively. He still has plenty of time to work out the kinks before Opening Day, however, and the 23-year-old could have a big season from the middle of the Nats' rotation if he can stay healthy.
Ross tossed two shutout innings in Wednesday's Grapefruit League game against the Tigers, allowing one hit and striking out one. The 23-year-old battled shoulder issues in 2016, but Ross appears to be fully healthy headed into this season. His career high for innings pitched in a season is 152.2 (across three levels in 2015), but if he stays off the shelf he should be able to top that and take a run at double-digit wins and triple-digit strikeouts for the first time.
Ross plans on focusing on the development of his changeup this spring, The Washington Post reports. "That's probably the biggest thing I'm going to work on throughout the spring," Ross said Tuesday. "I'm going to try to get with Max [Scherzer] and [Stephen Strasburg], I think, because obviously their changeups are pretty phenomenal. But just trying to stick with them and pick up a few things every day. And honestly, just keep throwing it. I can talk about it as much as I want, but until I actually throw it and start getting on the mound with it, nothing much is going to change." He threw the pitch 8.8 percent of the time last year, and it was more effective than it had been in 2015, but it's still far from a reliable pitch for Ross. An improved change should help him against left-handed hitters, who slashed .313/.385/.439 against him last season, and allow him to take the next step forward as a pitcher, but wait to see whether he shows a feel for it in Grapefruit League action before expecting any sort of breakout campaign from the 23-year-old.