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Josiah Gray throws 5.0 scoreless in Nationals’ 3-1 win over Braves

Josiah Gray provided another glimpse of the talent he’s working with as he continues to develop as a starter.

MLB: APR 13 Nationals at Braves Photo by Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Going into Josiah Gray’s 2022 debut, Washington Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez told the D.C. press corps he didn’t want his 23-year-old starter worrying about anything but trying to get New York Mets’ hitters out. Martinez felt the need to mention it because the Nats’ right-hander and former National Max Scherzer were matched up in the outing, and the fifth-year manager wanted to make sure Gray wouldn’t feel additional pressure going up against the pitcher he was traded for in last July’s deadline deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers, which brought Gray, catcher Keibert Ruiz, outfielder Donovan Casey, and pitcher Gerardo Carrillo to D.C. in exchange for Scherzer and a year-plus of shortstop Trea Turner.

“He shouldn’t be worried about Max, he should be worrying about their lineup and getting hitters out,” Martinez told reporters.

After the outing, in which he gave up eight hits (one homer), two walks, and four runs total, Gray said he didn’t let the pressure of trying to beat Scherzer in the head-to-head matchup get to him.

“I thought about it a little bit, but tried not to take away from the focus of going out there and pitching,” Gray said, as quoted by MLB.com’s Jessica Camerato.

“Obviously, Max is as good as they get, so I just wanted to go out there and try to match his zeros and keep the team in the game and put us in a position to win.”

Start No. 2 of 2022 for the righty was against the Braves in Atlanta, where Gray put together what was arguably one of his best outings of the season last summer, following the trade.

In that August 7th outing, Gray struck out 10 of the 22 batters faced, with four hits, two walks, and two runs, one earned, allowed in a 3-2 win in which he received no decision.

Yesterday in Truist Park, the Nationals’ right-handed starter gave up a leadoff single by Ozzie Albies in the bottom of the first inning, but after Albies was thrown out trying for second the next eight batters went down in order before the Braves’ second baseman walked, and then got doubled up in the next at-bat.

A second walk in an 18-pitch fourth, and a HBP and walk in a 19-pitch fifth left Gray at 82 pitches on the day, and his manager decided it was enough for the starter, who was replaced on the mound in the sixth inning of what ended up a 3-1 win for the Nationals, having allowed just four runners to reach base in five scoreless innings in which he struck out five batters.

“[Gray] gave us five strong innings,” Martinez said after the win which gave the Nationals two of three in the road series. “He wanted to go a little longer, but I told him, he had 82 pitches, I think that was good enough for five innings.”

Gray told reporters, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman, his manager explained why he decided to go to the bullpen in the sixth, with Kyle Finnegan (1 ER in 1.0 IP), Sean Doolittle, Steve Cishek, and Tanner Rainey locking down the second win against the Nats’ divisional rivals.

“He reiterated this early in the season, we’re not going to push you out there as much,” Gray said.

“It will be a different conversation in June, July. But at this point in time now, I’ll accept the five innings and hand it over to the bullpen. They did an outstanding job keeping the lead.”

“A lot of this stuff is based on too about how shortened Spring Training was,” Martinez said.

“No matter what you think about them building up, still throwing 90 pitches, you know, the high-leverage situations, all that comes into play, you know, especially these kind of games like that, so getting through, and bringing someone in fresh that they haven’t seen was part of what we were trying to accomplish, so like I said, he kept us in the game, and did great, and we had fresh arms out there with those guys and I wanted to get them in the game.”

As for what sort of development he’s seen from Gray between that early start in Atlanta in his time with Washington, and his outing yesterday against the Braves, the Nationals’ fifth-year skipper said the starter has made significant progress.

“For me, he’s understanding how to pitch, not just throwing the baseball. He understands in certain situations what he needs to do to get outs,” Martinez said. “And that’s a good thing.

“Last year he threw the ball hard, we all knew that. Sometimes he fell in love with his breaking ball and got away from his fastball.

“Now he’s utilizing both and throwing them both in and out, and throwing 2-0 breaking balls for strikes, and that’s good, and I know that is going to help his growth a lot.”