Going into his second outing after the trade deadline deal that brought him to the nation’s capital from Los Angeles as part of the return for both Max Scherzer and Trea Turner, right-hander Josiah Gray’s manager said the Washington Nationals weren’t really trying to tweak or change anything with the 23-year-old starter, opting instead to let him go out there and do his thing as he settled into the majors and the Nats’ rotation.
“We’re going to let him continue to pitch and just keep an eye on him,” Martinez explained.
“When we get these guys like that we don’t want to change them right away, we want to see them go out there and do what they’ve been doing. And he’s actually — we watch him, and before we traded for him, he’s pretty polished, good mechanics, stays in his legs, his arm action is good, so we’re going to continue to watch him, continue to watch him develop up here and see where he’s at.”
Through four starts before last night’s outing against the Miami Marlins in loanDepot park, Gray had a 2.86 ERA, five walks, 27 Ks, and a .225/.279/.513 line against in 22 innings, and his manager reiterated before his first appearance against the Nats’ NL East rivals that the plan remained the same, let him go, take it carefully, and watch what he does.
“For right now I just like his competitiveness, I like his composure,” Martinez said. “The key for him is just competing, getting ahead in counts, throwing strikes, he’s done everything really well. We just got to keep an eye on him. I don’t want to throw him out there for 110 pitches, I talked to him about that, this is something like I said, we’re going to build him up, but we want him to finish up strong, we want him to be strong going into the winter.”
Josiah Gray, Dirty 83mph Curveball. pic.twitter.com/2b0p2uaDpr— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 26, 2021
“He’s a young kid, and he’s missed some time,” the manager continued, referring to the time Gray missed with a right shoulder impingement earlier this season.
“So, we want to develop him slow and watch him. He’s going to help us in a lot of ways, as you can see that, so I want to make sure I just take care of him and he’s going to go out there and compete. But he’s given us six/seven innings, and he’s going to go out there and compete today and we’ll see how far he goes.”
As polished as he was when they got him, where did Martinez see room for improvement going into Gray’s fifth start for the Nationals?
“I know we talk a lot about utilizing his changeup a little bit more,” Martinez said. “He’s got a good one, he doesn’t throw it as much. But for me, I love the way he attacks the strike zone with his fastball. He knows what to do with his fastball. He studies a lot of the hitters that he’s facing before he goes out there, and he utilizes his fastball really well. I love that about him, and just continue to get better and grow, and understand our league and our division.
“He’s getting an opportunity to face the Marlins who are in our division, who we’re going to end up playing a bunch of times, so he gets to see some of their hitters, right now, and understand what they’re all about and how to face them.
“It’s just a learning process for him, but he’s done, like I said, up to this [point] he’s done really well. I talk a lot about his routine in-between starts, really, really good, for a young pitcher like that, I’ve watched him and he’s got a great routine, so it’s awesome to see.”
Martinez always raved about Scherzer’s between-starts work, and getting to see a future Hall of Fame pitcher work not only every fifth day, but every day in-between, so what has Gray done that’s impressed his skipper?
Josiah Gray has made 5 starts as a Washington National.— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) August 26, 2021
He's gone at least 5 IP in all of them.
He hasn't given up more than 5 hits in any of them.
He's got a 2.89 ERA.#GrayDay // #NATITUDE pic.twitter.com/Ez9YkJ31q7
“I watch him in the weight room,” Martinez said. “I watch him prepare for the opponents that he’s going to face, the video stuff that he does, kind of talking to the catchers two days prior to his starts about how he wants to attack hitters, you know, I mean it’s fun to listen to a young guy like that and getting feedback, talking to the pitching coach and what his thoughts are on how he should attack hitters. I mean, it’s fun to listen to him, to observe games.
“He sits there, you watch him, he sits there on the bench and he watches all the hitters, and what he’s doing, he’s trying to figure out when it’s his turn to pitch how he’s going to attack, how he’s going to get them out in certain situations, high-leverage, he talks a lot about high leverage and what he needs to do to get hitters out. So it’s been awesome.”
Gray gave up two runs in six innings in start No. 5, with a walk coming around to score in the second, and a solo home run (the eighth he’s allowed since coming to the Nationals) accounting for the only runs he allowed in a 91-pitch effort in which his curveball was real sharp, though he was unhappy with his fastball command.
Gray threw 34 curveballs, (37%), and got 17 swings, 13 whiffs, and five called strikes with the pitch, while throwing 41 fastballs (45%, 23 swings, 3 whiffs, eight called strikes) and another 16 sliders (18%, 9 swings, two whiffs). His fastball sat at 94, and got up to 95.1, with his curve 10 MPH slower (83.4 MPH average), and his slider at 84.5 (up to 86.2).
“It definitely wasn’t my best day,” Gray said after the Nationals’ 4-3 loss to the Fish in extra innings.
“I battled from inning 1-6, but some days you’re going to have performances like that, so I was grateful to put the team in a position to win the game, or keep us in the game at least, give up two runs over six, so obviously wasn’t my best game, but I’ll go back to the drawing board and try to be a little bit sharper next time out.”
Josiah Gray, Filthy Back-to-Back Curveballs...and Sword. ⚔️ pic.twitter.com/nLNYxyswug— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 25, 2021
”I just think my command was a little bit shoddy today,” Gray explained.
“I was a little scattershot with the fastball. When it was in the zone, it wasn’t getting the results I looked for, obviously I only gave up two or — I don’t know how many hits I gave up on the fastball today actually, but it just wasn’t what I wanted it to be today. The breaking balls were there, but the command just wasn’t the best today.”
“Jo-Jo was really good as well,” Martinez said. “He didn’t feel like he had his command. He threw a lot more breaking balls than he has in the past, and I think it was by design.
“But what I liked about it was he threw a strike when he needed to, I mean, and he battled all night long to get through six innings, and I love that about him.”