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Washington Nationals’ Josiah Gray holds Arizona Diamondbacks in check for 5+ IP...

Josiah Gray held the D-backs to a run on three hits and two walks in the day half of yesterday’s doubleheader...

MLB: Game One-Arizona Diamondbacks at Washington Nationals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Josiah Gray gave up eight hits, two walks, and four earned runs in four innings in his 2022 debut, but improved on that outing in his second start of the season, throwing five strong innings in which he gave up just one hit and three walks without allowing a run.

His second outing provided another glimpse of the potential the Washington Nationals saw in the 24-year-old, when he was still part the Los Angeles Dodgers’ organization, before last July 30th’s trade deadline deal brought him to D.C.

Gray made 12 starts after the Nationals acquired the pitcher from the Dodgers in the Max Scherzer/Trea Turner deal, posting a 5.31 ERA, 5.71 FIP, 28 walks, and 63 Ks, and allowing 15 homers in 62 23 innings, over which opposing hitters had a .238/.322/.489 line against him.

His manager, Davey Martinez, was asked after start No. 2 for Gray, where he saw the righty improve between last season and the start of this year.

“For me, he’s understanding how to pitch, not just throwing the baseball,” Martinez said.

“He understands in certain situations what he needs to do to get outs. And that’s a good thing.”

“Last year he threw the ball hard,” Martinez added. “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 he’s 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.”

In his third start of the season on Tuesday afternoon, Gray tossed two scoreless innings to start, on 33 pitches, and he retired two batters to start the Arizona Diamondbacks’ third, before Daulton Varsho hit a 94 MPH first-pitch fastball up high and outside out to center in Nationals Park for a solo home run and a 1-0 D-backs’ lead.

[ed. note - “That’s two homers in 14 13 IP for Gray so far this season, 1.26 HR/9 at that point, which, early this year, is down from the 2.42 HR/9 he allowed in 2021, between his starts for the Dodgers and the Nationals, 19 HRs in 70 23 IP. As he’s said, he’s a fly ball pitcher, so the home runs are going to happen. But so far he’s limiting the damage.”]

That’s all Gray gave up through five, though his pitch count (and K total) climbed, with the right-hander striking out 8 of 19 batters faced on 82 pitches after he picked up two Ks in a 16-pitch top of the fifth inning.

Gray returned to the mound in the sixth, with a 2-1 lead, and retired Ketel Marte on a fly ball to left field before his manager went to the bullpen in what ended up a 6-1 win for the home team in the nation’s capital.

Josiah Gray’s Line: 5.1 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 8 Ks, 1 HR, 87 P, 50 S, 1/3 GO/FO.

Of his 87 total pitches, Gray threw 54% fastballs and 37% curves, mixing in a few changeups (6%) and sliders (3%), and generated nine swinging strikes, six with the curveball, and three with his fastball, along with 22 called strikes, 11 with the four-seam, nine with his curve, and one each with the changeup and slider.

“Pitch count got up there,” Martinez said in discussing the relatively quick hook, “... but he kept their hitters off-balance, he made good pitches when he had to, but like we always talk about, he wants to go deeper in the games, but when you’re in the fifth inning with 80-something pitches already, I thought that was it for him, and it was cold, you know. He gave us what we needed, and like I said, he kept them off-balance, and he pitched well, he kept us in the game.”

With the starter’s pitch count up, and Sean Doolittle hot and ready for two consecutive left-handed hitters, Martinez went out and got Gray one out into the sixth.

“I thought he kept us in the ballgame,” Martinez reiterated, “and I wanted him to come out feeling good about himself, and he did that. He said he felt good. By design he wanted to throw more breaking balls today, and he threw some good ones.”

Gray’s 37% curveballs was up from 34% last time out and 16% in his 2022 debut, and the 25.1% he threw in 2021. Opposing hitters have a .111 AVG on the pitch through 14 13 IP in 2022.

“He’s getting better,” Martinez said of Gray’s use of the breaking ball.

“The biggest thing when he throws it, he’s got to throw it for strikes. I don’t know if you guys can remember, he threw a lot of short ones earlier, and we told him if you’re going to throw it, you got to throw it for strikes, and you’ve got to throw it early in the count, I like when he throws it early in the count, especially on certain hitters, and he did that well today.”