Ross continues to show he belongs on big league stage

Ross continues to show he belongs on big league stage

PITTSBURGH -- With Stephen Strasburg (left oblique strain) slowly regaining his health, Joe Ross' spot in the Nationals' rotation may be nearing its expiration date. But he's taking advantage of each Major League start, looking like a seasoned veteran in the process.

The 22-year-old rookie's composure was showcased yet again in a 3-1 series-finale loss to the Pirates on Sunday at PNC Park. Ross, in his fifth career start, dealt with conviction -- yielding three runs but just five hits, while needing only 78 pitches to complete six strong innings.

Strasburg's return is getting closer. After a three-inning simulated game on Friday, the former No. 1 overall Draft pick starts a rehab assignment on Wednesday.

But any potentially mounting pressure for Ross (2-3, 3.03 ERA) to perform hasn't been evident.

Sure, he made a couple of mistakes against the Pirates -- a pitch left over the plate for Neil Walker to hit into the bullpen, for example. But with that home run pitch and a couple of singles excluded, Ross was sharp in Pittsburgh.

Walker's solo blast

It shouldn't come as a surprise, either.

Ross has struck out 34 hitters, while walking only three, in 32 2/3 innings pitched this season. That kind of ratio is the mark of a pitcher comfortable with not only his surroundings, but also himself.

The young righty said he felt good out on the mound, and his teammates and manager see it, too.

"He's shown great composure," Nationals outfielder Michael Taylor said. "His stuff has been really good, and he's come up in some tough spots."

"For such a young pitcher, he's not rattled," said Nationals manager Matt Williams. "Regardless of the situation, who he's facing, it doesn't matter."

Walker even took notice.

"He had good stuff," Walker said. "Obviously, he has a good fastball and got a lot of guys out -- especially righties -- with that slider. I think we were able to do enough. Obviously, when we have [Gerrit] Cole on the mound, we feel like 2-3 runs on most occasions is enough."

Ross couldn't outduel Cole, but he held his own.

Ross gave the Nationals a chance -- something he's done in every start this year, and will likely continue to do in the near future.

John McGonigal is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.