Standing six feet and six inches tall, and throwing in the mid-to upper-90s with a wipe out slider, Tyson Ross in many ways fits the prototype of a power pitcher. Though he possesses many of the pluses from that ilk, he shares some of the negatives. He has had long-standing battles with control and command, and outside of a devastating fastball/slider combination, he lacked the arsenal depth of most starting pitchers. Aside from those issues, Ross has suffered multiple arm injuries, and comes equipped with unorthodox mechanics. He is long on limbs, short on stride, and flings the ball from an upright angle that is visually unattractive.
Nevertheless, Ross has unteachable assets that most teams covet; most notably that size and stuff. He also has the makeup to match his plus fastball. A 40-man roster casualty of the pitching rich Oakland A’s, he was traded to the San Diego Padres this winter.
The 2013 season, much like the rest of his career, has been a mixed bag. Ross was named the Padres’ fifth starter out of spring training, but struggled once the games counted. An injury to his non-throwing shoulder landed him on the disabled list. When he returned from the DL, he was forced from the rotation to the bullpen because he was physically unable to swing a bat which is part of the requirements for a National League starter.
Around the All-Star break, Ross’ shoulder was deemed healthy enough to resume all duties needed to rejoin the rotation. However, after spending two months as a relief pitcher, he needed to be stretched out before becoming a starter once again. It was also a chance for additional work on his changeup.
The transition was brief. After two starts in Triple-A, Ross returned to Padres rotation. While his role was clarified, the same clouds and question marks that have followed him since his days at the University of California-Berkley remained.
Prior to his mid-July shuffle, Ross earned a 3.60 ERA in 22 combined appearances. Although he was pitching well enough on the surface, his supporting statistics were weak. In 45 innings, he struck out 34 batters while walking 21. Despite top-shelf stuff, he was not missing as many bats as expected and allowed nearly a hit for every inning pitched. Meanwhile, since returning from Tuscon, he has shown flashes of brilliance.
From the time of his recall, Ross has allowed five runs in five starts. He has more strikeouts (36) than innings pitched (34). He has given up just 17 hits (two for extra bases), handed out 10 walks, and generated 36 groundball outs.
Not surprisingly, the most successful pitch during stretch has been Ross’ plus slider. He is throwing it a little more 30 percent of the time with results matching the quality of its reputation. Opposing hitters have swung at the slider 87 times since his mid-July return. They have missed on 52 of those swings (60 percent). Of his 36 strikeouts over the past month, 29 have been finished off with his best pitch. His slider has always had incredible movement; however, at times he had little feel for where it was going. Recently, he has gained increased command of the pitch, burying in cluster, glove-side and down.
As expected, Ross is using it to run away from right-handed batters. That said, he is also throwing it at the back foot of left-handed hitters with great success. The best example of this comes from his August 3 start against the New York Yankees. Within a span of four batters, Ross struck out lefties Brett Gardner, Robinson Cano, and Curtis Granderson. Each strikeout was completed with a nearly identical pitch: mid-80s slider located down and in. The strikeout of Gardner came in a full count, showing Ross’ extreme confidence in the slider.
Aide from the fastballs and sliders, Ross has started to mix in his changeup a bit more. He has thrown a combined 30 changeups in his last three starts after throwing 57 in his previous 24 appearances. In the smaller sample, hitters have failed to get a hit off the off-speed pitch while fouling or swinging through a handful of offerings. This is the role his change up needs to play; a disruption to the normal order of his best pitches.
While funky in appearance, Ross’ delivery is rather simple. He faces the plate before taking a step, turning his back to toward first base, lifting his leg toward his chest, and firing home. In some ways, he mirrors David Price in his setup.
A lot of Ross’ mechanics remain the same, that said, a few tweaks have been made. According to the pitch f/x data from BrooksBaseball.net, he is throwing from a slightly higher release point these days. He has also changed his motion from the stretch, choosing to keep his leg lift higher instead of shortening it as he did in the past with runners on base. In theory, he can now work on one consistent motion instead trying to master multiple deliveries. Whatever the reasoning for the switch, he is throwing more strikes with men aboard this season.
Over the last month, Ross is looking like a pitcher that is putting it altogether. And conceivably the most important – and least tangible – piece of it all might be the confidence of knowing he can be successful at the major league level. After Ross’ start against Arizona, Bud Black said “somebody told me once, if you do it one time, you can do it again.” Black’s former colleague and current Tampa Bay Rays’ manager, Joe Maddon, echoed a similar sentiment following a recent start of his own flame-throwing, right-hander Chris Archer. Maddon said “I always talk about ‘a mind once stretched, has a difficult time going back to its original form.'”
For Ross, the physical tools have been there. But now the ancillary instruments are starting to take shape.