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Washington Nationals news & notes: Davey Martinez on Keibert Ruiz changing things up; Josiah Gray continue to progress + more...

Highlights from Davey Martinez’s media availability on Wednesday afternoon...

Keibert Ruiz Changes It Up:

Keibert Ruiz has started to swing it in the last couple games, going 11 for 21 (.524/.545/.571) in five games leading up to last night’s series finale with the Miami Marlins, and his skipper, Davey Martinez, told reporters before the third of three in loanDepot park that the catcher’s run of success at the plate was in part hits just falling in and in part about some changes he made to his swing.

“A little bit of both,” Martinez said of the work the switch-hitting catcher has done since he joined the organization in a deadline deal with the LA Dodgers.

“We got him, we knew he was a good hitter. We knew that he was a high-contact guy.

“He wanted to make a first impression as we all do when we go to a new team. I think he was pressing a little bit, trying too hard.”

Washington Nationals v Atlanta Braves Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

Ruiz was just 4 for 33 (.121/.194/.152) in his first 10 games, eight starts, after he was called up by the Nationals in late August, but he’s settled in and apparently stopped pressing as he is getting more comfortable with his new team.

“And also too, we talked about him trying to stay taller, on his upper half, and he did that, he made some adjustments, and now he’s able to get to the ball, he frees his hands up a little bit better, and he’s getting to the ball a lot easier. But he’s having really good at-bats, and that’s the key. Now, like I said, he’s got great bat-to-ball skills, he likes to swing, you know, he’s not up there — you know, which is great. Now he’s another one that we really want to get him in the zone, because when he gets the ball in the zone, you can see, he hits the ball really hard.”

Ruiz’s Bat-to-Ball Skills:

The bat-to-ball skills Martinez mentioned are a great start for a big league hitter, but there’s a lot more to refine and build on from there.

“We never want to take the aggressiveness away from a young hitter,” Martinez explained.

“Especially when he has good bat-to-ball skills, like Keibert, but with that being said, you look at a guy like [Juan] Soto, who came here, when we first got him, and he had such an unbelievable awareness of the strike zone. And he took his walks. I think for me, that’s what makes Juan so special. He’s one of those few breeds where he takes his walks, but when he gets a pitch in the zone where he thinks he can hit it, he hits it really hard.”

Washington Nationals v Miami Marlins Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

“With that being said,” the fourth-year skipper added, “if we could just translate that just a little bit, I’m not wanting him to go up there and try to walk every time, but just accept his walks and get a good pitch to hit, he’s going to hit. Keibert is going to hit a lot, plus he’s going to get on base a few more times, but I love watching him, I love his at-bats.

“And I told him, ‘Hey, don’t ever take away your aggressiveness, just work on being aggressive in the strike zone.’”

And what about the power, for the catcher who hit 24 doubles and 21 homers in 72 games between Triple-A in the Dodgers and Nats’ systems before he came back up to the majors?

Will the plate discipline they’re looking for and the bat-to-ball skills inevitably lead to the power picking up going forward?

Ruiz had just two doubles in 15 games heading into the finale with the Fish.

“There’s no doubt. No doubt,” Martinez repeated. “When he gets the ball in the zone, he hits them hard, and it’s just a matter of time when he really starts elevating the balls, and hitting them out front a little bit more. But like I said, he’s worked diligently, and he’s trying to get better, in all aspects of the game, and he’s done well.”

Gray Stresses Positive With Self Talk:

Josiah Gray was happy with his September 17th start against the Colorado Rockies, which came five days after he struggled against the Pittsburgh Pirates and told reporters after a rough night on the mound that he didn’t have any positives to take away from his outing in PNC Park.

Coming out of the turn in the rotation agianst the Bucs, Gray said he was happy with his work on the mound, if not the final result.

“Honestly, I was breathing a lot better on the mound, I was taking a lot of methodical, deep breaths, and just putting my mind at ease,” he explained, “and a lot of positive self-talk, like I’ve talked about before, in-between innings, especially after the first inning, just saying to myself, ‘Man, you got this, this is all they get in terms of the two runs.’

“Just reevaluating my situation, and knowing that my stuff is going to be there, and I’ve just got to have the confidence in that.”

Washington Nationals v Miami Marlins Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

“I’m just going be positive about it,” he added, “and take this outing as a real step forward in my progression as a pitcher.”

What was the 23-year-old starter working on in-between outings, before taking on Miami’s Marlins last night?

“Just consistency in the strike zone,” his manager said.

“We talked before, still, arm-side misses, we talked a lot about that still again, and we want him to continue to get better with that. His misses got to be somewhat around the zone, not missing so much.

“His 0-2 to 3-2 to 4-2, has to be a little better. With that being said, we talked a lot about the non-competitive pitches.

“We want him to start learning how to get hitters out in three pitches or four pitches or less.

“[Pitching Coach Jim] Hickey talked to him about that as well.

“We’ll see how he goes out there today. The biggest thing is attacking the strike zone early, and when he gets ahead, finishing hitters.”

Gray went six innings in what ended up a 7-5 win, earning his first W in the majors, giving up six hits, one walk, and two runs, both earned, while striking out six, and he generated a total of 12 swinging and five called strikes with his slider and seven swinging and five called with his fastball. Did he feel his stuff was as sharp as it looked?

“Yeah, it felt a lot better,” Gray said after the game. “Even from last outing, like I said a week ago, I felt like my stuff was just clicking a lot better in that outing, and obviously the numbers weren’t what I wanted, I felt the box score didn’t tell the full story, but today I kind of just played off of the good things that I had from last outing and took them into tonight, and I was really happy with tonight, and my stuff was sharp as can be, and I’m just going to build off of that for next outing, and make sure I don’t take a step back, I just continue to make steps forward and go out there and give my all and have complete confidence with all my stuff.”