Finally all the way back after 13 months of rehab from Tommy John surgery, Austin Ross showed Monday night that his "rubber arm" seems to be as strong as ever.
The right-handed Brewers prospect allowed one hit and struck out four in a season-high six shutout innings to earn the win and outduel 2013 No. 1 overall pick Mark Appel in Class A Wisconsin's 9-1 rout of Quad Cities at Modern Woodmen Park.
"After the first couple innings, it was good. I was throwing strikes kind of a little up in the zone and off. But by the third inning, I fell into a good rhythm, keeping the fastball down, pitching to both sides and then my breaking ball started going well. Getting ahead of hitters obviously opens up a lot of the plate," Ross said.
Ross (1-0) retired the first 11 batters he faced before walking top Astros prospect Carlos Correa. The 6-foot-2 right-hander quickly got a ground ball to end the fourth inning and didn't give up another base runner until Austin Elkins singled with one out in the sixth. A groundout back to the mound and a strikeout ended Ross' best outing of the year.
"I knew [my pitch count] was low. Once I got through the fifth, I thought they'll probably let me go back out because I hadn't given up a hit," he said. "Obviously I'm not going to go throw the whole game with this injury, but I wanted to get through six or seven or whatever they'd let me go. I was throwing a fastball inside and let the ball drift a little over the plate too much. [Elkins] did a good job and hit it into right field."
Ross had success during his first stint in Wisconsin, going 6-3 with a 3.25 ERA in 2011. During the second half of the year, he earned a trip to pitch for Brevard County in the Class A Advanced Florida State League, where he went 4-4 with a 7.49 ERA. He started 2012 back with the Manatees and had a 1.54 ERA with nine strikeouts in 11 2/3 innings when his pitching elbow popped.
"Honestly, I tore it on one pitch. I kind of felt a little something, it didn't really even hurt, it was just a little pinch, a bump on the inside on the elbow," he said. "You hear stories about enormous amounts of pain, swelling up, but everyone reacts differently. For some it doesn't even hurt, for some it hurts a lot."
The LSU product said the injury came as a total surprise given his rubber-arm history.
"I never missed a day of playing catch in my life, never had a day in high school, college or in the pros where I felt a little soreness and needed to take a day off from playing catch or just take a light day of throwing," he said. "Just one pitch and I tore it. Obviously it had been breaking down over time. It just got to the point where it couldn't hold it anymore."
The road back from surgery tested Ross' patience, but the 2010 eighth-round pick is gaining momentum. He has allowed one run on seven hits with seven strikeouts over 13 innings in his last three starts.
"It feels unbelievable [to be back]. My velocity's back to where it was, my stuff's where it was. The past couple weeks, it's all fallen together for me. Before that I would show flashes for an inning or two and then go back for an inning and it wouldn't be there, there were peaks and valleys. Finally a couple weeks ago, I felt like I could put it together for a whole game," Ross said.
Alfredo Rodriguez led the way offensively for Wisconsin, going 4-for-5 with a double, three runs scored and an RBI. Leadoff man Tyrone Taylor, Milwaukee's No. 4 prospect, doubled, singled and drove in three runs.
Appel (1-1) gave up seven runs on nine hits in 3 1/3 innings to take his first professional loss.