Discussing the possibility of getting one more turn in the rotation after he gave up four hits, three walks, and three runs in 5 1⁄3 innings pitched in Coors Field in Colorado last week, 23-year-old Washington Nationals’ starter Josiah Gray said he was excited about the possibility of going up against a Boston Red Sox club that was/is fighting for an AL Wild Card spot, and potentially spoiling things for one of the teams still in the mix for a postseason berth.
“I think it would be great,” Gray said. “Obviously my career is very young and I’m continuing to learn, but obviously we’re in a spot with that series to play spoiler and mess up things a little bit and so that’s what we got to do, so if I do make a start next week, whenever that may be, that will be fun, and I’ll go out there give it my all and try to pitch just like any other game.”
Of course, he knew it would be different from any other game.
“Obviously, the other side of the field will be wanting to beat us really badly, but just got to go out there, pitch my game and sort of just ride the wave, and play spoiler as best as we can,” Gray added.
His manager, Davey Martinez, informed of those comments, said on Saturday afternoon that he has liked what he’s seen from Gray so far in 2021, since he joined the organization in the deadline deal with the Dodgers that sent both Max Scherzer and Trea Turner out west to Los Angeles, both on the mound and when it comes to his competitive nature.
“He’s unbelievable,” the fourth-year skipper said. “We talked about this yesterday. He gets fired up and he wants to compete. He’s kind of a perfectionist, you know, and so for me, I always tell him to just stay in the moment, don’t get ahead of yourself, go pitch to pitch, but I love watching him, I really do. He’s fired up. He comes in the dugout, you see him after an inning, he punches his glove, he’s always ready to go back out. It’s good to see.
Josiah Gray, Nasty 85mph Slider. pic.twitter.com/f3sl0oBhal— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 2, 2021
“But I expect him to go out there and compete, I know he’s excited about facing these guys, so he’s going to go out there and compete today, so I’m excited to see that.”
Before Friday’s series opener, Martinez did, as he mentioned, talk about Gray’s competitive streak, in discussing what the right-hander and catcher Keibert Ruiz, another prospect that the Nationals acquired in the deal with the Dodgers, have done since they’ve been up with their new club.
“The kid has a lot of fire,” the fourth-year skipper said of Gray. “He has a — he wants to win. He competes, not only on the field, but every day he wants to get better, and that’s pretty incredible for a kid his age and young, and some of the things that he’s been through already. But he wants the ball every five days. He’s learning, he’s working with [Pitching Coach Jim] Hickey a lot, and learning every day how he’s going to do that, and how he’s going to get better. He’s got such an unbelievable routine for a young pitcher, and that’s really nice to see.
“I think we got something in Josiah and I think he’s only going to get better.”
In 11 starts with the Nationals before taking on the Red Sox, Gray had a 5.72 ERA, a 5.88 FIP, 26 walks, 56 Ks, and a .247/.331/.502 line against in 56 2⁄3 IP.
Going up against the Sox, the right-hander tossed three scoreless to start, on 46 pitches, but with two out in the fourth, he left a fastball up over the middle of the plate to Rafael Devers, who hit it 413 feet to right for a solo shot and the first run of the game for either of the teams.
That ended up being the run Gray allowed in six innings of work, over which he gave up three hits and two walks, while striking out seven.
In the end the Nationals dropped another game to the Red Sox, by a final score of 5-3, but the starter didn’t receive decision in his final outing of 2021.
“He pitched about as good as I’ve seen him pitch tonight, and that was awesome to see,” Martinez said after the game.
“Against a good team that’s in the playoff hunt, and he held his own and did really well. So, I’m very excited to have him and get him going again here in the spring and see what he can do in a full season, but you saw what he could do in a big moment, and he did well.”
“That was one of my better starts,” Gray indirectly agreed.
“Everything was really working today,” he added. “I just was confident, I was mentally strong, and I knew that if they get that one run that’s all they’re going to get. I’m going to keep us in this baseball game, and I definitely did that, and unfortunately we didn’t put much offense up, but that happens, and I did my job of keeping us in the game, and that’s all I can ask for, and I’m really proud of myself, and I’m proud of the team for fighting from inning 1-9.”
The home run came on a two-out, two-strike fastball to Devers, after Gray, who’s started the at-bat with a curve, then followed with three straight fastballs, shook off Ruiz and threw the Red Sox’ slugger a fourth straight fastball that ended up up in the zone and over the middle of the plate.
Martinez said his starter actually brought up the decision to shake Keibert off on that pitch.
“He actually brought it up, and he said, ‘I shook to get the fastball, I wanted to get it up, in the zone because that’s one way you can get him out,’ and he said, ‘I probably should have went with what Keibert called,’ he said, you know, ‘I learned a valuable lesson,’ and he said, ‘Those guys are good hitters, and when you make a mistake they’re going to hit them far,’ but he learned, so you know it’s something that he’s going to continue to learn, that the catcher is involved as well and he sees what’s going on and sometimes you just got to say, ‘Hey, you know what? This is what he called and I’m going to be convicted to throw it,’ and that’s the biggest thing, having conviction on what the pitch should be and what he wants to throw as well, but he’s learning.”
“For me there, I shook — so I’m not sure what he started with,” Gray said.
“I can’t remember off the top of my mind, but I knew that I wanted to get a fastball inside and elevated to Devers, knowing that if I get it there my fastball will play better. Obviously I missed the spot, he did what he’s supposed to do with that pitch. Just a matter of missing location, we handled him the other two at-bats, but yeah, just a matter of missing location.
“Keibert and I after the inning we talked and said, ‘Hey, that’s what a guy like him is going to do, and that’s what the best hitters in baseball should do,’ so hats off to him, but it helps me that there was no one on base, it kept us in the ballgame, 1-0, and that’s all they got, and that’s all I said that they were getting, that came to fruition.”