Following simulated game, Ross eyes return

Right-hander has been out since July 2 with right shoulder inflammation

Following simulated game, Ross eyes return

WASHINGTON -- Right-hander Joe Ross threw a simulated game on Saturday afternoon at Nationals Park, a crucial step as he nears his return to Washington's rotation. With all of the organization's Minor League affiliates eliminated from the postseason, this was the way the Nationals chose to build his pitch count back up.

Ross, who has been sidelined since July 2 with right shoulder inflammation, fired about 60 pitches and mixed in all of his pitches, while facing Brian Goodwin, Wilmer Difo and Michael Taylor in the batter's box.

"He had good velocity, had good break on his breaking ball, changeup looked like he'd never been out," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "The thing that I was most impressed with was his location on a couple of pitches. Location is usually the last thing to come. He's looking good."

Ross's next step is still unclear, but after coming out of Saturday feeling strong, he is hopeful that perhaps his next outing can be in the Majors. His stamina may not be exactly where the Nationals would like it to be, however, and with expanded rosters in September, they could easily have another starter ready in long relief in case his pitch count goes up quickly.

The Nationals' rotation could use the boost from Ross's return. They are currently trying to replace two starters while Ross and Stephen Strasburg (strained flexor mass) are sidelined and have had mixed results from their group of young starting pitchers. In 16 starts before landing on the DL, Ross had a 3.49 ERA with 79 strikeouts and 26 walks.

"I feel good," Ross said. "Even in my last outing in [Triple-A] Syracuse, I think it was a couple of innings, 50 pitches, and I had more. I felt fine. I wanted to go back out, but it was kind of a set thing, go take our steps, not a rush too quick.

"So going out 80 pitches on a full start, I feel pretty good about that, so hopefully I get that chance."

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.