Josiah Gray’s first start for Washington’s Nationals, after the 23-year-old right-handed starter was acquired at the trade deadline as part of the package of prospects that the Los Angeles Dodgers sent back in return for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner, was against the Philadelphia Phillies he was lined up to face again last night in the series opener with the Nats’ divisional rivals in the nation’s capital.
Gray was making just his eighth appearance and seventh start, after debuting in the majors with LA earlier this season, however, and catcher Keibert Ruiz, the “main cog” in the deal at the deadline, according to Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo, and the top prospect in Washington’s system as soon as he joined the organization, was making his debut with his new team and catching his fellow former Dodgers’ farmhand.
Manager Davey Martinez told reporters that he saw Ruiz, after talking to the press on Zoom in advance of his Nationals debut, rush right through the clubhouse in search of Gray so he and the starter could game plan for the game against the Phillies. Martinez was asked what the challenges of having two relatively inexperienced players working together against the Philly hitters were going to be.
“Like I said,” Martinez explained, “they’re having conversations right now, I know that Keibert has watched some videos, he’ll sit down and talk to [Pitching Coach Jim] Hickey pregame and get a bunch of information from Hickey as well, but then you’re going to go out there and you’re going to watch them, one, compete, and one learn each other as they go along.”
“I’m curious to watch them both work together,” the manager added.
“I mean, this is obviously a big part of our future, these two guys, so it’s going to be fun to watch them and we’ll keep an eye on them and we’ll take notes to see how we can make them both better, but like I told Keibert today, I said, you go out there and have fun, play the game the way you’ve been playing and compete.”
Ruiz didn’t seem too concerned about going into the game with limited knowledge of the Phillies’ hitters, and he said it was more about getting on the same page with his starter.
“Yeah, I just — me and him we got to be on the same page,” Ruiz said.
“I know him from the Dodgers, so I think that helps a little bit, and we’ve got to go with his strengths, and study the hitters a little bit and don’t try to do too much.”
Gray told reporters on Sunday in New York, as quoted by MLB.com’s Jessica Camerato that he knew Ruiz would be prepared:
“He’s going to make sure that you’re on the same page,” Gray said of Ruiz’s game planning.
“He’s going to be really thorough with the scouting report, he’s going to make sure that you’re getting your pitches where you need to get them. … He’s a really great catcher.”
“It’s really exciting,” Gray added of the two of them working together in D.C. so soon after the two of them were acquired. “Obviously, there’s a lot of good ballplayers here, but they invested a lot in me and Keibert so it’s going to be really fun. I’m sure [Monday] will be just that first glimpse of future things to come.”
Ruiz’s manager said he’d heard good things about the catcher’s ability to absorb and game plan off of scouting reports when he was down at Triple-A and getting to know the pitchers on Rochester’s rotation and the hitters in a new league.
“I heard that a lot from our Triple-A staff that he does really well,” Martinez said. “They had told me before he came that he takes it to heart, his catching and his ability to call games, that’s his No. 1 priority, so that’s awesome to hear that from a young catcher.”
While he did some preliminary work getting to know the major league pitchers, Martinez said the catcher would be mostly learning on the fly, or run, actually.
“He did some kind of — just watching games and stuff, but his focus was just handling the pitchers down at Triple-A, and that’s what he should be doing,” the manager said.
“So, now that he’s up here, he’ll have to learn on the run, but I know he can do it. He did it so quickly down in Rochester with those guys, that I’m assuming that and I know that he can do it.”
Unfortunately, it didn’t as well as the Nationals hoped it would.
Odubel Herrera singled to start the top of the first, and one out later, Bryce Harper hit a 2-2 curve that didn’t quite end up where Gray wanted it out to right field for a two-run shot and a 2-0 lead. A walk, single, and RBI groundout followed as the Phillies jumped ahead 3-0.
Gray worked around a single in the second, but a single and two walks loaded the bases with one out in the third, and Ronald Torreyes hit a 1-2 fastball at the top of the zone out toward the wall in left field, where Yadiel Hernández missed it and had to chase it down after it bounced, allowing three more runs to score.
A scoreless fourth in which he worked around a single ended Gray’s outing after a total of 83 pitches.
Josiah Gray’s Line: 4.0 IP, 7 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 3 BB, 4 Ks, 1 HR, 83 P, 54 S, 4/0 GO/FO.
“They came out swinging,” Gray said after what ended up a 7-4 loss.
“They came out attacking early, and then coupled with my command not being there, not being great tonight, that was the result tonight, so hats off to them, you know, it was just an off night, but those night’s kind of happen, and you just learn from them and you come back better the next time.”
“I just had a little trouble finding rhythm today,” he added, “with getting the signs, and stuff like that, so definitely in the fourth or even in the third, I thought my pace was a little better, but yeah, I just had trouble finding a rhythm from pitch one, which coupled with the command not being there it was a tough night.”
It’s going to take some time, he acknowledged, to get completely on the same page with Ruiz.
“We’re still going to have to get on the same page because although we were in the same organization before we haven’t thrown that much together just because of this year being a weird year [with an injury for] me and whatnot, so we’re just going to continue to get on the same page just like I did with Tres [Barrera] and Riley [Adams]. It’s going to be a work in progress just like every other pitcher here, but that’s part of the process.”
“It feels comfortable,” Ruiz said of working with Gray again, in a different organization now.
“I feel like the first couple innings, the first innings we threw a lot of fastballs, and then we mixed really good, and just one hit Torreyes got us with a fastball up over there.”
“A couple times the signs were — you know — but I thought they worked well together,” the Nats’ skipper said after the loss. “I don’t really feel like Josiah had that good rhythm, early on, but I thought Keibert did really well catching and seeing him for the first time, sticking with some of the breaking balls or fastballs, the counts that they were using them, I thought they did well.”
Gray said there was one moment, before the game, when he took a moment to take in how odd and amazing it was that the two former Dodgers’ prospects were working together, in Nationals Park.
“Yeah. Right when we were walking out of the bullpen,” he said. “I just thought — we were walking side-by-side and I thought that was a nice shot, obviously former Dodger teammates and then now Nationals teammates, I thought that was awesome just to see where we were about a month ago or even last year at the alt-site.
“So it’s just pretty cool and I kind of caught a hint of that when we were walking out of the bullpen.”