It’s not fair, of course, but if you’re a highly-regarded pitching prospect and you are part of a trade that includes a three-time Cy Young award-winner going the other way, there will be a few people who insist upon comparing you to that pitcher.
Josiah Gray, 23, and a 2018 2nd Round draft pick by the Cincinnati Reds, who was traded to the Dodgers in a seven-player deal back in 2018, and then dealt to Washington’s Nationals a week back in the six-player trade that sent Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to LA, handled the question well when he was asked about filling Scherzer’s cleats in the Nats’ rotation.
“Obviously Scherzer has some large shoes for me to fill,” Gray told reporters in the nation’s capital after debuting with the Nationals. “But I’m going to go out there and just throw my game every day. Not try to think about, ‘Man, have to go out there and throw seven perfect innings,’ I just want to go out there, and put a scoreless inning up every inning that I’m able to and put my team in a position to win.
“That’s all my game in pitching is, throw scoreless zeroes, get some strikeouts, other than that just put us in a position to win a ballgame.”
Josiah Gray, Filthy 86mph Slider. pic.twitter.com/9HXDkh9BbT— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 8, 2021
Getting traded twice by the time you’re 23 can’t be easy either, mentally/emotionally, or just logistically, as Gray explained when he talked about joining his third organization.
“It’s definitely not easy. This is my first time being traded in-season, so just going through that is definitely not something that’s simple,” he said.
“You have to think about: Okay, what do I have laying around that isn’t with me? Because you know there’s still some stuff in LA that I don’t have with me, so I have to wait for that stuff to get here. Obviously, I can still pitch and go out with the stuff I have, but yeah, it’s just like you have to get your bearings in the places you were before, and then get to the new city as soon as you can and kind of just establish yourself there, learn your new teammates, the new coaching staff, new manager, and things like that. So it’s definitely not easy, but like I said before, it just comes with the business and you have to go through it to understand it.”
The positive spin on getting traded twice, of course, is that three teams thought enough of him to want to draft of acquire him, and Gray said he was excited to join the Nationals even if they’re at the start of a reboot that included trading away Scherzer, Turner, Brad Hand, Yan Gomes, Daniel Hudson, Kyle Schwarber, Josh Harrison, and Jon Lester, all of them, with the exception of Turner, on expiring contracts.
“I think we got a great ballclub,” Gray said. “Obviously a lot of guys that are getting a real chance to play, a chance to make a name for themselves in the big leagues, so you know, no one is out here trying to do too much, everyone is just trying to play their game and enjoy it as they can.
“I’m sure we’re going to sneak up on a lot of teams, win some ballgames, and I’m glad to be a part of this team. I’ll get a good shot, a good road for this year, and prove myself in the big leagues just like everyone here.”
“Everyone is going to come to play every day,” he added.
“We got a really good ballclub. I’m really excited for now, and I’m really excited for the future with this team and with this organization.”
Josiah Gray, 84mph Slider and 94mph Fastball, Overlay. pic.twitter.com/ZXXKxgtQl3— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 8, 2021
The right-hander got off to a good start with his debut for the Nationals, going five strong in which he gave up four hits, two walks, and one run, striking out two in a 71-pitch effort.
It ended after five innings, but his new manager, Davey Martinez, liked that the fact that the starter wanted to keep going.
“When I told him he was done, he looked at me like, “Hey?’
“I said, ‘Hey, you’re done.’ And he gets it. He understands. I like the fact that he wanted to go back out there. That to me means a lot.”
And Martinez liked what he saw overall.
“I thought he did really well. 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.”
Going into his second outing, Gray’s manager said the club wasn’t really trying to tweak or change anything with the young starter, opting instead to let him go out there, and just do his thing as he settles into 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.”
Martinez dismissed any thought of Gray having to fill Scherzer’s shoes, and said he’d spoken to the right-hander about dealing with any perceived pressure to perform given who he was traded for late last month.
“I talked to him personally and told him, ‘Hey, there’s really no pressure on you, you know. You’re young, you’re going to learn, just go out there and just have fun and compete,” the manager said.
“That’s all we’re going to ask you to do, is just go out there and compete. He’s got a really good head on his shoulders, he understands what he wants to do, he does his homework, and he works hard. I saw his routine over the past five days, before he gets his start today, he’s got a great routine, so it’s fun to watch him, and every day and see how he goes about his business, and he’s been good.”
Start No. 2 with the Nationals for Gray, began with a one-out solo home run on a 95 MPH 1-1 fastball to Jorge Soler that the Braves’ outfielder hit 424 feet to center for a 1-0 lead early in the second of three between the divisional rivals in Truist Park.
A second run scored after a strike three/wild pitch, sac bunt, and a single to center field, on which there was an error, but that’s all he gave up through five innings, striking out 10 of the 22 batters he faced in an 82-pitch outing.
Josiah Gray’s Line: 5.0 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 10 Ks, 1 HR, 82 P, 51 S, 1/5 GO/FO.
Gray generated 20 swinging strikes overall in the outing, (six with his four-seam fastball, 12 with his curve, and two with his slider), and he got 11 called strikes, (six with his fastball; two with his curve, and three with his slider).
“I truly believe that with him the sky is the limit,” Martinez said when asked about all of the swings and misses for Gray.
“You know, for him it’s just about pounding the strike zone, getting ahead early and utilizing all of his pitches, and he did that today. The biggest thing for him is to just continue to get outs. He works pitch by pitch, and he just tries to get outs. But like I said, he was on today, and he had everything working.”
“It’s my first time catching him in a game, so it was pretty cool seeing his stuff,” catcher Riley Adams said after working with Gray for the first time since he was acquired at the deadline as well.
“He’s got a lot of life on that fastball, and then really has two elite breaking balls with that curveball and slider, and we worked in the changeup a little bit there too. He’s got really good command on all his pitches, and I thought he used them really well. Being it’s our first time working together, he shook me off a little bit here and there, and I’m going off what he’s confident in and I thought he threw the ball really well today, really attacked these guys, and was using all his pitches well.”
“He used all his pitches,” Martinez said. “I saw he threw a little more breaking balls today, by design. We talked about how to attack these hitters, and he was good, he was sharp.”
The key to his success in Gray’s mind?
“The breaking balls for sure,” he said. “Just working ahead with them, working in even counts with them, and then when I was ahead, just the command of them and the movement was really on point. Everything was on, but the breaking balls especially.”
He didn’t have any issue with ending the outing when Martinez did, as they take things a little slow considering Gray dealt with a shoulder impingement in May.
“Yeah it was sort of the same conversation,” as after his first start Gray said. “I’m going to continue to get built up and do that over time, so it was the same conversation, like, ‘Great job, you kept us in this game, and we’re just going to build on in from there.’ So, I completely agree with the decision. Obviously if this year was a normal year, I’d be built up to 100+ pitches, but obviously coming off the two-month injury and this only being my third or fourth outing in the big leagues you have to continue to work up.
“But I’m getting the ball, I’m getting the starts every fifth day, so that means just as much, so I’m staying consistent that way and I’m going to build off that and continue to build the pitch count as well.”