The A's 2008 second-round Draft pick endured a frustrating 2011 campaign, following an early-season oblique injury. But Ross again finds himself heavily in the mix for a rotation job this year. He's already impressed in the early stages of camp, largely because of sharp command and an improved changeup.
The 24-year-old hurler, who compiled a 2.75 ERA in nine games (six starts) with the A's last year, has always showcased unorthodox mechanics, and it's believed that they'll ultimately land him in a relief role. But Ross has been tailoring his work habits in a way he hopes will equate to success as a starter.
"I did a lot of video work in the offseason to hone in on my motion," Ross said. "Repeating my [motion] is always going to be a big thing for me -- especially because of how unique it is. I feel like I've learned a lot about myself and can identify what's going wrong when I'm not pitching well."
Such awareness should serve Ross well. The A's expected him to return to their rotation once healthy last year, but he pitched so poorly during his rehab outings that he was kept at Triple-A Sacramento until year's end. Command inconsistencies hurt Ross the most, and he compiled a 7.61 ERA with 22 walks in 36 2/3 innings in nine starts for the River Cats.
His numbers in the Arizona Fall League were also uninspiring, but Ross was satisfied with his work during that time -- especially with a changeup that was nearly nonexistent the previous year.
"I was able to work on the changeup in game situations, without really worrying about the results," Ross said, "and that was really good for me to trust it a little more, and hopefully add it in and allow me to go deeper in games."
The pitch has added depth to a repertoire that also includes a hard-sinking fastball and sharp breaking ball.
"He's looked very good," manager Bob Melvin said. "His ball can disappear with a lot of velocity."
With two spots up for grabs in the rotation, Melvin and Co. may very well choose to start the year with Ross and fellow righty Graham Godfrey in tow, while placing the likes of Parker and Peacock in Triple-A. Even so, Ross realizes staying in the rotation will be even harder than getting there.
"You have to take advantage of every opportunity here," Ross said. "It was a rough time last year, and definitely a learning experience. I was focusing too much on getting back, rather than on the process of healing myself. I was in the wrong mindset, a little bit, and it really hurt me in the long run. This year, I have a better idea of what I need to do to be in the big leagues."