Acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers before last Friday’s trade deadline, as one of four players received in return for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner, and added to the Washington Nationals’ roster early on Sunday morning, in advance of a starting assignment for his new team on Monday night, 23-year-old right-hander Josiah Gray didn’t have much time to get comfortable in his new home before taking the mound for the first time in D.C.
Gray found out he was traded last Thursday, before a flight to Arizona with LA, then he flew to Oklahoma City, where he’d previously been pitching for the Dodgers’ Triple-A affiliate, on Saturday, before a flight to the nation’s capital on Sunday, where he checked into his hotel before quickly rushing over to Nationals Park to watch the series finale with Chicago’s Cubs and prep for a start against the Philadelphia Phillies.
On Sunday morning, Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez offered a brief scouting report on the club’s new pitcher, who became the second-highest ranked prospect in the Nationals’ organization following the trade according to MLB Pipeline.
“He’s got a very live fastball, good breaking ball, good changeup,” Martinez said. “So I told him, ‘Hey, sit down with [temporary pitching coach] Sam [Narron], I talked to [Pitching Coach] Jim Hickey this morning, he’s going to call him and go over the reports with him with the Phillies, and I told him just go out there, have fun, and get together with [catcher Tres] Barrera, who’s probably going to catch him tomorrow, and go over the game plan and just you be you. He’s had some good numbers, and I’m excited to see him go out there and compete.”
Before last night’s game, the fourth-year skipper said that Barrera’s job, working with a new pitcher for the first time without much preparation, would be a tough one.
“I think it’s going to be tougher for Tres,” than for Gray, Martinez explained. “I know Tres has looked at a lot of his video, his fastball, what it does, if it runs, if it cuts, looked at his breaking balls, his changeup, so he’s got his work cut out for him because he’s never caught [Gray] before, and then I talked a lot with Tres about just going over the signs with him so there’s no confusion, and he’s done that, and they’ll sit together today and map out a game plan on how to attack each hitter for the Phillies.”
“Tres, he’s been good, he’s learned really fast, so I expect him to go out there and catch Jo-Jo as good as he caught anybody else we got here, because he’s been really catching the ball well,” Martinez added.
His advice for Gray going into the outing?
“Just by talking to him I know he’s very excited to pitch,” Martinez said. “I don’t know who’s more excited, him or me. I’m looking forward to watching him pitch live, but I told him just go out there and have fun, relax, and utilize all your pitches.
“I told him I said, your best pitch in your arsenal is strike one, so go attack hitters.”
Gray did attack hitters early, and he retired the first seven batters he faced before Odubel Herrera singled for the Phillies’ first hit, and Herrera got him again on a full-count, center-cut fastball in the top of the fifth inning, sending a solo home run to center for the Phillies’ first and only run off the starter, in his debut in a Nationals uniform.
Josiah Gray’s Line: 5.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 2 Ks, 1 HR, 71 P, 47 S, 4/6 GO/FO.
Gray threw 69% fastballs, averaged 94.3 MPH, got up to 95.4, mixed in a curveball (15%), slider (10%), and a changeup (6%), and impressed his manager and catcher with his stuff and demeanor on the mound.
“Oh man, he’s electric,” Barrera said, after what ended up a 7-6 loss in which Gray received no decision.
“That’s the reason why we got him, I knew he was going to have a live arm, and he’s here for a reason. You know, [you] trade for a guy like Max Scherzer, you know you’re going to get something really special in return, and he looked great, man, he commanded all his pitches, it was actually really fun to work with him today.”
“I thought he did really well,” Martinez said. “Handled himself really well, he was very poised out there, and threw the ball well, and he threw strikes, which was awesome.
“He threw a lot of first-pitch strikes, he fell behind a couple times and came right back and got back in the strike zone. So, I thought he was really good.”
The first pitch strikes, Gray said, in his own post game Zoom call with reporters last night, are, “... definitely something I tell myself before every inning and just want to reiterate that into my mind, into my mindset, just going out there and getting strike one.
“When I get strike one, things are going to get a lot easier for me. So just establishing that strike early is a big part of my game and it will be a big part of my success down the road.”
Gray was also critical of his own outing when asked what he wanted to take away from his debut for the Nationals, and work on for start No. 2 with his new team, pointing to the two walks he issued in the outing, and the fastball he grooved to Herrera on the home run as a couple of the things he obviously wasn’t happy with.
“Just getting in that mindset of going at those guys in those innings a little better instead of giving them four pitch walks,” he said, “obviously would have put me in a better position for those innings.
“And also the home run, I think getting that pitch to a different location, obviously it was pretty center-cut as center-cut gets, so putting that pitch in a better position or in a better spot obviously would help me out a little bit. But those are things you grow with, those are part of the game, you just have to learn from them and be prepared for next time, because it’s not the last time that I’m going to give up a home run. I just have to continue to bounce back from it and make better pitches the next time out.”
“Watching his stuff,” Martinez said, “he fills the strike zone up. He’s not afraid to go after hitters, not afraid of using his fastball, both sides of the plate, and threw a lot of fastballs down and away today, typically by design, he talked about — I know he said something about the one pitch that he thought he missed his location on the home run, and he said it was something that I need to learn, and that was great to hear it come from him.
“He’s going to be good. He knows he needs to work, but I loved everything that I saw about him.”