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Washington Nationals’ Josiah Gray frustrated by solo home runs in loss to Atlanta Braves...

Three solo home runs frustrated Josiah Gray, who was happy with the outing overall...

Atlanta Braves v Washington Nationals Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

Josiah Gray Gray generated 20 swinging strikes overall from Atlanta Braves’ hitters when he faced Washington’s NL East rivals in Truist Park last week, (six with his four-seam fastball, 12 with his curve, and two with his slider), and the Nationals’ 23-year-old starter, acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Max Scherzer/Trea Turner trade, recorded 11 called strikes, (six with his fastball; two with his curveball, and three with his slider) in a five-inning outing, with 10 Ks from the 22 batters he faced in an 82-pitch effort.

“Obviously that’s a really accomplished team and I think I line up against them in my next start,” Gray said after the outing, “... so I just want to build off this and make sure that next start is just as good and I’m making my pitches.”

“Those hitters are obviously really accomplished over there,” Gray added at another point in his post game Zoom call, “... but at the end of the day, I have to make my pitches, and when I do that, my chances to succeed will be high.”

Gray gave up a one-out home run in the bottom of the first in that outing, on a 95 MPH 1-1 fastball to Jorge Soler, and a second (unearned) run scored in the third, but that was all in the right-hander’s second start for the Nationals. He talked afterwards about adjusting his approach to hitters as he learned tendencies throughout the appearance, and limiting the hard contact after the early home run.

What did Gray and catcher Riley Adams do as he settled in?

“Mixing up the sequences, and commanding the baseball better I think is the key to success in limiting hard contact,” Gray said, “just reading their swings and reading their approaches, that’s all something you have to continue to learn with, something I’ll have to continue to learn with, so just reading that and trying to get a better grasp of what they’re doing as hitters and what I’m doing as a pitcher, it all goes into plan of limiting hard contact and getting swings and misses and things like that.”

In his third start for the Nationals, Gray, as he noted, was lined up against the Braves again, but his manager said that even though he was facing the club in a second straight start he hoped the young starter would stick to what worked the last time out.

“Yeah, you know, he had some success against them last time, so I don’t really want him to change much,” Davey Martinez told reporters. “You know, attack the strike zone, get ahead of hitters, and continue to work his fastball in and out of the zone, and utilize his breaking ball. Just go out there and compete. Like I said, he had a good outing his last outing, just build from that.”

Is there a tendency, especially among young pitchers, to tinker and think they need to mix it up when going against the same team in consecutive outings?

“Yeah, of course, everybody does that,” Martinez said. “As a hitter, you tend to try to guess with the pitcher if you’ve faced him enough if he’s going to change or not. But like I said, I just want him to go and attack the hitters the way he did his last outing, we have some pretty good analytics on how to attack these guys, and just go out and attack them the way he attacked them last time.”

At the start of his second outing against the Braves, which began 3+ hours after it was set to after a rain delay, it was more of the same, with Gray tossing four scoreless on a total of just 46 pitches, striking out five of the first 13 batters.

With two out in the fifth, however, Gray gave up a two-out solo home run to left by Travis d’Arnaud, on a 1-2 breaking ball up over the middle of the plate.

Ozzie Albies hit a first-pitch up and in out to right field in the top of the sixth, tying things up at 2-2, and the Nationals’ starter came back out in the seventh and gave up a third solo home run, on a 94 MPH 2-2 fastball outside that Austin Riley hit out to right for a go-ahead home run in what ended up a 4-2 win for Atlanta.

Gray generated 13 swinging strikes this time, eight with his fastball, and five with his curve, and he got 13 called strikes as well, three with his fastball, nine with his curve, and one with his slider.

“I felt great innings 1-7, I felt like my stuff was really playing, I was getting ahead of batters, a little bitter ending at the end, but I felt great throughout that outing and you know,” he said after the loss. “Given the circumstances with the rain delay as well, I thought I couldn’t have done much different, and I’m excited for that outing, and I thought it was good.”

“He threw the ball well, he really did,” Martinez said in his own post game Zoom call with the D.C. press corps. “He battled. He gave up three solo homers, but I thought he threw the ball really well. Every time he goes out there, he’s giving us an opportunity to win the ballgame, that’s awesome.”

Asked what, if anything, he told his starter about trying to limit the solo home runs, Martinez said, “I told him that he threw the ball exceptionally well. Just under certain circumstances, as we know, as you start knowing hitters, you’ll know what pitches to really hone in on and what they like and he’ll know that, he’ll get another shot at these guys, and he’ll know which pitches to stay away from. A lot of these guys, the ball outer half, they’re really good at, and you saw that today.”

“I think the game it remains the same,” Gray said in talking about facing the same team in two consecutive outings.

“Just attack the strike zone, with offspeed, with the fastball, everything like that, control the quadrants as best as I can and adjust as they’re adjusting, you know, they’re going to get more and more comfortable. Being our NL East rival they’re going to go continue to see me and continue to see the way I pitch, but I’m going to continue to see the way they swing the bat, so just continuing to learn about that and adapt and everything like that is something that is going to be part of that journey and part of my progression in my career.”

How has his manager seen him develop over his first three starts with the Nationals?

“I like how poised he is, I really do,” Martinez said. “I mean, he goes out there and today, he showed some emotion today. He’s been one of those quiet guys, going out and doing his job, he gave up the first home run and he wasn’t happy about it, and I kind of like that from him, and he got back out there and kept pounding the strike zone, so it was good to see.”