In start No. 2 for Washington’s Nationals following the trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers that sent Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to LA in return for four prospects at the deadline, the top pitcher the Nats received in return, Josiah Gray, struck out 10 of the 22 batters he faced.
Gray, 23, held the Atlanta Braves to two runs (one earned) in five innings, threw a 95 MPH, fastball 51% of the time, and mixed in two breaking balls which really caught the attention of everyone watching the right-hander work.
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 got 11 called strikes, (six with his fastball; two on his curve, and three with his slider).
The right-hander pointed to his breaking balls, in particular, when he was asked what was working for him on the mound in Atlanta’s Truist Park.
“The breaking balls for sure,” Gray 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.”
Gray’s new manager, Davey Martinez, was asked after the come-from-behind, 3-2 win over the Nationals’ NL East rivals what it is about the righty’s curveball that makes it so effective.
“If you look at it,” Martinez said, “it comes out like fastball, it really does.
“And then it has depth at the end, but when he’s throwing it, especially if he can throw it for strikes, man, it’s a tough pitch.
“His [fastball] velo is up 95-96, and when he can drop that in there that’s a tough pitch to lay off of.”
Playing off the 95 MPH fastball, with the two breaking balls, the curve, which come in at 83.7 MPH average, and slider, which he throws at around 85.5 MPH, is how Gray attacks.
“Yeah, so the curveball, I use both of them to both hitters,” he said when asked to break his repertoire down. “Curveball is going to be mostly to lefties, it’s going to be sharp downward movement, it will be anywhere from 83-85. Slider will be 84-86-87, just a little movement off — the movement is kind of different for both — but they both play into my arsenal, just get something off the fastball, and they were really working today.”
Josiah Gray, Filthy 86mph Slider. pic.twitter.com/9HXDkh9BbT— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 8, 2021
Catcher Riley Adams, who hit a go-ahead, two-run home run in the top of the ninth inning on Saturday night, talked after the game about getting behind the plate and working with Gray for the first time.
“It was pretty cool seeing his stuff,” the former Toronto Blue Jays’ catcher, acquired in a deal for Brad Hand at the trade deadline, said.
“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,” Adams added, “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.”
The fact that both of his breaking balls sit in the mid-80s, with little separation in terms of the velocity, caught Adams’ attention too.
“I think they’re still — it is interesting that they are similar velocities,” Adams said, “but the curveball’s got a little more depth to it, the slider has a little more lateral movement to it. They’re still very similar shapes for regular curveballs and sliders, so yeah, it’s definitely different that they are the same speeds, but they still have totally different breaks and movements there that I think you can still use both to attack different hitters weaknesses and things like that.”
Josiah Gray, 84mph Slider and 94mph Fastball, Overlay. pic.twitter.com/ZXXKxgtQl3— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 8, 2021
Having both at roughly the same velocity, Gray said, isn’t necessarily by design, but it’s a nice benefit.
“Yeah, honestly, it’s not by design, but just over time I’ve just adapted to it, especially last year at the alternate site over the summer,” he explained.
“I just was trying to tinker with my breaking balls and make sure they were consistent movement-wise and things like — command and everything like that, and the curveball just happens to be defined as a hard curveball, and then the slider you know is going to be a harder slider, but I don’t really rely on the velocity as much as the two different movements. So they could both be 85 on a given day, but the movement is just going to be that much different, so it’s going to be a little tougher for the hitter to differentiate between the two.”