The struggle is real for Joe Ross.
After opting out of the 2020 season, Ross and the Washington Nationals were hoping the young hurler could become a complement to Max Scherzer.
Instead, Ross has remained consistently inconsistent.
He had his second consecutive abbreviated outing Wednesday afternoon, going only 3.2 innings and giving up four runs (two earned) in a 5-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs.
This came after the Nats spotted him two runs in the top of the first. After allowing one Cubbie to cross in the second inning, Ross gave up a two-run shot to Ian Happ in the third on a 2-2 pitch that didn’t have much movement.
Don’t let Ian Happ get hot
— Cubs On Tap (@CubbiesOnTap) May 20, 2021
A walk and a pair of hits, including a Joc Pederson RBI single in the fourth, ultimately chased Ross from the bump.
Joc Pederson lines an RBI single to center field, scoring Nick Martini to increase the Cubs lead to 4-2 in the bottom of the 4th inning pic.twitter.com/8YrHeDhtwq
— Cubs Highlights (@Cubs_Highlights) May 20, 2021
It was the shortest outing of the season for the 28-year-old Ross, now in his sixth season in the majors.
“Every mistake he made today, they capitalized on,” Nationals manager Davey Martinez said. “He got the ball up a couple times, and they were able to put the bat on the ball in big situations. And then he gets himself in a hole. He’s got to keep the ball down in the strike zone.”
Over eight starts in 2021, he’s only made it to the sixth inning twice.
You could look at his 2-4 record and 5.72 earned run average and come away with the impression that Ross doesn’t have the talent to perform at this level.
But dig deeper.
In five of his starts, he’s given up two runs or less. And in those games, Ross has a 1.66 ERA.
However, in his other three starts, he’s allowed 22 runs in just 12 innings pitched (16.50 ERA).
Walks haven’t been a major issue, with Ross handing out only 18 free passes. The long ball has been the problem. How big a problem?
In every start that he’s given up a run, he’s given up a home run. Every. Single. Start. When he keeps the ball in the park he’s money in the bank.
— MLBbro.com (@MLBbrodotcom) April 14, 2021
On April 19th against the St. Louis Cardinals, he gave up five home runs in five innings. Of the 27 runs that have crossed the plate against him, 16 of them came courtesy of the long ball. That accounts for an incredible 60 percent of his total.
In a season where runs have been at a premium, with historic lows in team batting averages and historic highs in strikeouts, serving up dingers like they were smothered hash brown at Waffle House is not something any team can survive.
But Joe Ross is far from the only pitcher on the Washington staff having problems keeping the ball on the right side of the fence. In fact, he doesn’t even lead the team in home runs surrendered, but he is in danger of losing his spot in the rotation.
The competition between Ross, Corbin (2-3, 6.10), and Erick Fedde (3-4, 4.35) hasn’t produced a clear winner.
Ross will get at least one more start to prove himself with Fedde currently out due to COVID-19 protocols.
Time for Joe Ross to seize the opportunity. If not, he may find himself term-limited in Washington.