Nationals’ Ross to make season debut against Cubs

WASHINGTON — The Washington Nationals will enter the offseason with three-fifths of their 2019 starting rotation likely in place.

Right-hander Joe Ross is looking to fill one of the two remaining spots.

Friday night against the Cubs, Ross will make his first start in the majors since undergoing Tommy John surgery 14 months ago. Ross made his major league debut against the Cubs in 2015.

“It feels great. It’s been a long time this year. Watching from down in Florida’s kind of tough, but I’m glad to be back and glad to get an opportunity this Friday to get a start again,” Ross said earlier this week. “It’s kind of debut No. 2 against the Cubs. I’m excited.”

Ross, 25, was acquired from the Padres in December of 2014 with a player to be named later — Trea Turner — as part of a three-team trade that saw Washington send Steven Souza and Travis Ott to Tampa Bay. Ross was 17-13 with a 3.95 ERA in 48 games from 2015 to July of 2017 before having surgery.

Now, after six minor league rehab starts, he returns to face left-hander Jon Lester (15-5, 3.53 ERA).

“Just kind of compete. You know, go throw strikes and do what I’ve always done, challenge batters,” Ross said of his expectations for Friday. “The last thing I want to do is get that high pitch count early in the game. So, just be aggressive and try and get outs and trust the defense.”

With Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Tanner Roark set to return, Ross will be among the young Nationals pitchers looking to break into the 2018 rotation, but Ross said he is not focusing on proving his worth necessarily over the next few weeks.

“Obviously, No. 1 is being healthy, so as long as I can finish the rest of this year and feel good and strong then that’s fine with me,” he said. “But inside I want to compete and when I go out and pitch I’m going to try and win the game so it’s not really try and prove my worth to the team in the last 30 days, I just want to go out there and win games.”

Lester will start in Washington for the first time since the 2017 NL Division Series. He is 2-2 with a 4.25 ERA in seven career regular-season starts against the Nationals. Lester was 0-0 with a 1.86 ERA in two appearances, including one start, in the 2017 NL Division Series against Washington.

Lester hasn’t lost since Aug. 11 when the Nationals pounded him for nine runs (eight earned) in 3 2/3 innings at Wrigley Field. In his last start, Lester gave up eight hits but threw six shutout innings in a win against the Phillies on Sunday. He escaped a bases-loaded jam in the fourth inning and retired six of the final seven batters.

“When it gets a little tight, and you’ve got a lead, he makes really good pitches,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon told the Chicago Tribune. “He made good pitches when he had to.”

In Thursday’s series opener, Chicago’s David Bote did it to the Nationals again, driving in the go-ahead run with a double in the 10th inning off reliever Jimmy Cordero as the Cubs (83-57) won 6-4. On Aug. 12 at Wrigley Field, he delivered a two-out grand slam in the bottom of the ninth to hand the Cubs a 4-3 win.

The Cubs boast the best record in the National League and lead the Central Division by 4 1/2 games.

Washington (69-72) has lost three straight to fall three games below .500 for the first time since April 30.