The Nationals bullpen is… well… underperforming. No one has taken the closer’s role by the horns. There’s a void at the back end of the bullpen as wide as the Grand Canyon. Yet, I legitimately think that there is an answer for that void in the Nats organization: Joe Ross.
Ross has struggled this year as a starter. He has an ERA and FIP well over 5.00 entering Tuesday’s game against the Mariners, his home run rate is astronomical, and his velocity is way down… late in his starts. If only there was a role that existed in a major league organization where a pitcher didn’t need to throw 100 pitches and could empty the proverbial tank with elite stuff before getting tired… Oh, wait, there is. And the Nats desperately need someone who can do that.
In his career, Joe Ross has a 2.24 ERA and 2.19 FIP the first time through the order. Opponents hit just .192 against him. He strikes out more than one-quarter of the batters he faces the first time he faces them. The second time through, he has a 5.32 ERA, 5.15 FIP, and a .314 average against. Joe Ross could be an Andrew Miller-like closer.
Miller pitched multiple innings of late inning relief several times during the 2016 season for Terry Francona’s Cleveland ball club. His performance in the postseason alone had people pontificating that we may see a shift in how clubs look at the closer’s role in the near future. The Nats could make that near future today with a guy already in the organization.
The Nats have a huge need. Ross isn’t getting the job done consistently as a starter this year. Why not have an experiment? It can’t be worse that what’s in the bullpen now, and it can take pressure of a taxed rotation.
Now, some might point out that it may not be wise to give up on Ross as a starter at just 24 years of age, especially after putting up great numbers as a starter in 2015 and 2016. So…don’t. Tanner Roark was moved from the bullpen back to the rotation, and it certainly hasn’t negatively impacted his ability to start after a year in the ‘pen.
And what I’m proposing for Ross isn’t a year in the ‘pen for long relief and mop up roles, which is what Roark was doing for most of his time in relief. I’m saying Ross should pitch the last two to three innings every couple nights when the Nats have a lead they want to hold. These are high-leverage at-bats.
This is a pretty radical way of thinking for someone like Dusty Baker, and it seems unlikely that Mike Rizzo would force his veteran manager’s hand to do something like it. That doesn’t mean that I don’t want to see it, though. I want a change from what we’ve seen from the bullpen since Opening Day, and this could be a fun way to get a lot more out of a lackluster bullpen through more than a quarter of the season.Tags: Joe Ross, Nats, Tanner Roark, Washington Nationals