While Joe Ross might be nearing an innings limit imposed by the Washington Nationals, Marco Gonzales' big league season is just getting started for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Gonzales replaces an injured Carlos Martinez on Tuesday night at Busch Stadium, where Ross seeks a third straight victory as innings continue ticking off from an undisclosed ceiling. Washington wins in the series, however, have been rare for over three seasons.
Ross (5-5, 3.24 ERA) gave up a hit and an unearned run with seven strikeouts over six innings of Thursday's 4-2 home win over San Diego and was pulled after 77 pitches.
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He's thrown at least 90 only once in his last eight starts as the club keeps a close eye on the right-hander. Including the minors, he's pitched 142 2-3 innings, which is up from last season's 121 2-3.
"It's an interesting scenario because he hasn't been hurt," manager Matt Williams told MLB's official website. "It's not like he has had an injury and we are cautious in that regard. It's uncharted territory because he hasn't (pitched a lot of innings). But looking how he has gone about it, all indications are that he is fine."
The 22-year-old has displayed a control that could be the envy of many veterans, issuing 1.49 walks per nine innings. He hasn't been quite as cool on the road, however, with a 1-3 record, 4.97 ERA and 2.48 walks per nine in five starts.
Martinez is missing the game to rest a sore back, though he's expected to miss only one start.
Gonzales, the club's first-round pick in 2013, has spent time with three St. Louis affiliates this year, posting a 1-4 record and 4.42 ERA in 16 starts and a relief outing.
The left-hander split 10 big league appearances between the rotation and bullpen last season, going 4-2 with a 4.15 ERA. He was 2-1 with a 1.65 ERA in three starts at Busch, though that included 11 walks in 16 1-3 innings - the same number Ross has posted in 66 2-3 for the season.
With Monday's 8-5 win, St. Louis (85-46) has taken the last three against the Nationals (66-64) and hasn't lost a series against them since their first of the 2012 season. The Cardinals are 16-4 in the last six-plus sets.
Getting to 17-4 would also mean the Cardinals have reached 40 games over .500 for the first time since 2005. The only times they've hit the plateau in fewer games during the modern era came in 1944 (90 games with two ties), 2004 (124), 1943 (126) and 1942 (129) - and the club reached the World Series in each of those seasons.
"We don't take it for granted, we're having fun," Jason Heyward said. "We're doing a great job of pushing each other."
They've gotten to the brink of going 40 over with wins in eight of nine while scoring 6.3 runs per game and posting a 2.08 starting ERA.
Stephen Piscotty is hitting .424 with six extra-base hits and 11 RBIs on an eight-game hitting streak, and Heyward is 7 for 13 in his last three. His .293 average is higher than it's been since his third game of the season.
That might not give Washington much to be hopeful about, particularly after falling 6 1/2 games back of the New York Mets in the NL East. If the Nationals can get through this series in decent shape, though, one of the easiest schedules in baseball awaits with 20 games remaining against Atlanta, Miami and Philadelphia.
Those figure to be even easier if Ryan Zimmerman continues hitting. The first baseman is batting .333 with four home runs and 15 RBIs in his last eight games.