Washington Nationals hoping Joe Ross can claim fifth starter role

Feb 26, 2020; Tampa, Florida, USA; Washington Nationals starting pitcher Joe Ross (41) pitching against the New York Yankees during the first inning at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 26, 2020; Tampa, Florida, USA; Washington Nationals starting pitcher Joe Ross (41) pitching against the New York Yankees during the first inning at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports /

With the offseason addition of Jon Lester, the Washington Nationals have built one of the most powerful rotations in baseball. Nevertheless, after opting out of the 2020 season, there is still doubts that Joe Ross can step up and be the solid fifth starter that the Nationals hope for.

The Nationals acquired Joe Ross back in 2014 from the San Diego Padres in a three-team trade that included the Tampa Bay Rays. That trade was an absolute steal for the Nats as they acquired Trea Turner and Joe Ross and gave up Steven Souza Jr and a low-level minor leaguer.

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Ross was called up to the majors for the first time in his career in 2015 and displayed interesting stuff. He started 13 games and had a 3.64 ERA with a great FIP of 3.42. He earned his spot in the rotation and in 2016 he responded to the confidence by having a great first half of the season. In 19 games started he had an ERA+ of 125 and a FIP of 3.49, but his season was cut short thanks to an inflammation in the right should.

Since that injury, his performance was never the same. After recovering he started the 2017 season in AAA and went up and down a couple of times, with an ERA of 5.03 in the majors, until in July he was diagnosed with a tear of the right ulnar collateral ligament and underwent Tommy John surgery. His recovery took a year and he was limited to just 3 starts and 16 innings in 2018.

For 2019 he fought for a spot in the rotation in spring training but the electric stuff he showed in his first two years was just not there. He started the years in AAA and the Nats took advantage of his last option and he went up and down three times during the season. He was an emergency starter and a long reliever but had an awful ERA of 5.48 with a high WHIP of 1.69. Nevertheless, as the season progressed he showed some improvement and even started game 5 of the World Series.

Ross opted out of the 2020 season with health concerns over the coronavirus and is coming to the 2021 spring training camp with a similar idea as in 2019, to win over the last spot in the rotation. The other options of Nationals manager Davey Martinez for the upcoming season are Austin Voth, Erick Fedde, and Rogelio Armenteros.

Austin Voth was the Nats last season for the last spot of the rotation and he didn’t perform how the team expected. He had an awful 6.34 ERA with a FIP of 6.41 in 11 games started. He was in the bottom percentile of the league in xEra, xBA, and xSLG. Nevertheless, the team still has confidence in his stuff and would love to see him bounce back after a tough year.

Erick Fedde, a first-round draft pick and once a highly regarded pitching prospect, has had lots of opportunities over the last four years to win a rotation spot and has failed. He has a career ERA of 4.57 and is facing what might be his last opportunity. Fedde, who is out of option years, would have to impress this spring training to win the rotation spot, but will probably end in the bullpen as a long reliever/ emergency starter.

The last pitcher in the mix is Rogelio Armenteros who was claimed of waivers from Arizona in December. The Cuban-born Armenteros was a top 100 prospect but his stock has taken a hit during the last couple of years. The former Houston Astro pitches for the first time in the majors back in 2019, where he pitched just 18 innings and allowed 8 runs. He didn’t take part in the 2020 season thanks to an injury in his right shoulder, but he is fully recovered and should be ready to compete for a spot in the rotation. Nevertheless, it’s probable that if he impresses the Nats take advantage of his remaining minor league options and keep him in the loop in case of any injury during the season.

The Nats front office, the manager, and the fans are hoping that Joe Ross can go back to his form in 2016 and 2017, so he can be the missing piece of a rotation that already features some of the game’s best pitchers. He has made a full recovery after a tough Tommy John surgery and after being out for the last season he might be facing his last shot in a Nationals uniform. His performance in spring training is going to be essential for his future.

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As of right now, the spot in the Washington Nationals rotation is open and the competition for it has just started.