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TinCaps ace shines in dreary home opener

Despite poor weather conditions, Joe Ross delivered another strong performance on Thursday in the TinCaps' home opener. (Photo by Gannon Burgett for The News-Sentinel)
Despite poor weather conditions, Joe Ross delivered another strong performance on Thursday in the TinCaps' home opener. (Photo by Gannon Burgett for The News-Sentinel)

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For more on local sports, follow Reggie Hayes via Twitter at www.twitter.com/reggiehayes1
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press

Joe Ross has thrown 10 scoreless innings this season

Friday, April 12, 2013 12:01 am
TinCaps pitcher Joe Ross thought it was a pretty good opening night at Parkview Field.It was cold, rainy and bordering on difficult to see.

Maybe that's why he was pitching up a storm.

“Although it wasn't sunny, it was actually somewhat like home,” Ross said, recalling some lesser days growing up in Oakland, Calif. “I've pitched I don't know how many times in slight rain. I've been used to it before, throwing off a wet ground, wet ball."

It sure works for him. Named the opening day pitcher and – through the unpredictable nature of April in the Midwest – back on the mound as the home opener pitcher, Ross has assumed the early ace status on a roster loaded with pitching potential.

Ross pitched five scoreless innings in the TinCaps' 4-0 rain-shortened win over the Lake County Captains on Thursday at Parkview Field.

He's 2-0 now with stats that need no flowery words to spice them up: 10 innings pitched, two hits, no runs, two walks and 12 strikeouts.

“He was unhittable today,” TinCaps manager Jose Valentin said. “Even when guys were on base and he needed to get an out, he didn't change at all. His tempo stayed the same. He maintained composure. He worked ahead in the count and made the pitches when he needed them.”

The steady rain, which never left downtown, dampened some spirits as the usual sellout crowd was limited to a couple thousand hardy souls.

But those who stuck it out saw Ross mix his fastball, slider and change with precision. He struck out two hitters in each of the first three innings, allowed only one walk and a double to left-center by Lake County cleanup hitter Nellie Rodriguez in the fourth.

Ross followed up both his mistakes – the walk and the double – with strikeouts of the next hitter. Ross threw 76 pitches; 51 were strikes.

“His confidence (is strong),” Valentin said. “He's throwing strikes, he's working ahead in counts and he's not afraid to get hit. When he's got his stuff, he's a power pitcher, but he has a good breaking ball and changeup. Attack the hitters and let the guys behind you help you out.”

The Lake County defense, incidentally, was not up to the task. All four TinCaps runs were unearned. Luis Tejada dove in two runs and Dane Phillips was 2-for-3 with two runs scored. Lake County committed four errors.

The TinCaps improved to 4-3 and seem to be developing strong chemistry as a unit.

Ross pointed to left fielder Mallex Smith as one of the players who always finds a way to keep Ross' spirits up and his mind focused on the task at hand.

“He's always chatting me up and keeping me loose,” Ross said.

“If something's not going right, I'll come by him and say, 'You still got it,' let him know he's still the man,” Smith said. “If I'm not doing good, like today, he can throw jokes at me. We keep it fun.”

Ross said he is especially gratified to have a strong first two outings after things did not go well when he opened the season in Fort Wayne last year. He pitched in six games before suffering an injury.

“It's a great confidence booster,” Ross said.

Valentin praised Ross' performance but said the team has to be ready to come to his assistance on those probably inevitable but hopefully rare games when he doesn't have such strong stuff.

Ross shouldn't have to do everything by himself, Valentin said, although some days – like Thursday – he might be able to handle it.

“If he keeps throwing the ball the way he's been throwing it so far,” Valentin said, “I'll take my chances with him.”

The role of ace might be open for debate as the season moves on. For now, it's the man seeing everything clearly no matter what the weather.

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For more on local sports, follow Reggie Hayes via Twitter at www.twitter.com/reggiehayes1

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