Nats send rookie Ross to bullpen

WASHINGTON — Nationals rookie Joe Ross has likely started his last game of the season, but the 22-year-old’s freshman campaign isn’t done just yet.

Ross (5-5, 3.79 ERA) will finish the season out the bullpen, the club announced Tuesday, a move designed to limit the innings he throws while still keeping him active down the stretch.

The right-hander has thrown a career-high 149.2 innings combined in the minor and major leagues this season and has shown signs of wearing down in his last two starts.

“We can manage innings a little bit for Joe out of the ‘pen,” said manager Matt Williams. “He’s at a point now that he’s never been to, a little bit fatigued in that regard, so to be asked to go out every fifth day and pitch six innings would be unfair for him.”

Ross threw a total of seven innings combined in his last two starts and was charged with seven earned runs. He also struggled with his command — among his strengths for much of the season — with nine walks and three strikeouts in his two most recent outings.

“The eyes tell what’s going on with him,” said Williams, who also acknowledged reduced velocity on Ross’ fastball last weekend. “The last start, he was feeling pretty fatigued. I think it was evident with what we saw. So that being said, we can limit that and still have him continue to be effective for us, albeit not from a starter’s position.”

There was some thought that with an unspecified innings limit approaching, the Nationals would simply shut down Ross altogether. Instead, the club hopes he will benefit from pitching in meaningful games over the final four weeks of the season.

“It’s important for him to be part of [a playoff race] and to experience this last part of the season,” Williams said. “It will do nothing but benefit him in the long run and down the line. It’s not that he’s hurt — he’s perfectly healthy. It’s a question of him being available to pitch, but not necessarily six innings every time out. So he’s excited about that.”

The Nationals also announced that Tanner Roark will take Ross’ spot in the rotation. Roark is expected to start Saturday against Miami.

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