Josiah Gray acknowledged this spring, talking to Washington Post writer Jesse Dougherty, he’d come to terms with being known as the main pitcher included among four prospects who came to Washington in the trade which sent future Hall of Famer Max Scherzer and a year-plus of Trea Turner to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the 2021 trade deadline.
Gray, 24, 23-year-old catcher Keibert Ruiz, 23-year-old pitcher Gerardo Carrillo, and 26-year-old outfielder Donovan Casey was the package of prospects Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo got in the deal with the Dodgers, but Gray said he didn’t feel pressure to prove Rizzo right and the LA front office wrong for making the trade.
“I don’t think of it as pressure,” Gray explained:
“But I would say it always comes with the added: ‘Hey, here’s Keibert Ruiz. Here’s Josiah Gray. They were traded for so-and-so.’ It’s always added into the conversation — which is a good thing. It’s a testament to how the organization evaluated us and traded us for some top-tier talent, $300 million players. You definitely take some pride in it. You say, ‘Okay, now we’re here to start it up new and kind of be that backbone for the organization now.’ ”
Gray, a 2nd Round pick by Cincinnati’s Reds in ‘18, who was traded to the Dodgers later that year, and Ruiz, who signed with Los Angeles as an amateur free agent in ‘14, both debuted in the majors with the LA before coming to D.C., and they were up in the big leagues together at the end of the year last summer, at which point their manager said this week, they both got the nerves and thoughts about proving themselves worthy of being in a trade for Scherzer and Turner out of the way.
“Since the first month that we got them where I felt they were putting a little bit of pressure on themselves they’ve been really good,” Martinez said, “... and they’ve been getting better, each and every day.”
The key for Gray, who got the start against the Dodgers in last night’s game, facing his one-time team for the first time?
“For me it’s about controlling his emotions,” Martinez said, “... and have him focus on just getting pitch-to-pitch. We’ll chat with him when we meet with him like we always do before the games when he pitches, but I just want him to just kind of relax and go out there and continue to do what he’s been doing and grow. Keep growing the way he’s been growing, because I’ve seen some growth, I’ve seen some maturity.
“Last outing he got through some high-leverage situations and he did well. So we want him to continue to do that.”
He was able to get through those high-leverage situations, Martinez noted, with help from his catcher.
“Keibert did a great job [with Gray] ... last outing with him on some of the high-leverage situations,” the fifth-year skipper said, “stepping out behind home plate and getting him to relax a little bit, and focus on the next pitch, so I expect Keibert to do that today with him. They’ve been working great together, they really have, so I’m looking forward to watching these two guys compete today.”
Martinez said he would actually be interested to see how Gray handled the emotions, with his advice to just treat it like any other start.
“It’s just for him to relax and understand what he needs to do to get through this game,” the manager said. “So, it’s going to be interesting to watch him and see how he reacts and how he does. He’s a competitor, that’s one thing that I know for sure, he loves to compete and he loves to win. He’s going to give everything he has tonight to beat the Dodgers, I know that.”
He was also asked if facing a former team is an important step in fully moving on from the previous organization you played for?
“I think it’s a big moment for [Gray]. He came up with the Dodgers, and he has history with them, so there might be some emotions a little bit when he goes out there for the first time facing those guys, but after that I hope that he settles in and like I said, continues to do what he’s been doing and that’s to compete and keep us in the ballgame.”
It didn’t go well for Gray, however. He fell behind in the top of the first, giving up a 1-out walk to Freddie Freeman and then surrendering a two-run home run on a 2-2 fastball up high Trea Turner hit out to center field, 2-0.
A single and a walk in the next two at-bats extended the inning and had him in the mid-30s with his pitch count, which was up to 40 after one.
Gray’s teammates rallied for three in the bottom of the first, but he gave up a leadoff single and a walk to the first two Dodgers he faced in the top of the second, and Mookie Betts hit one out, a 3-run shot to left on an 86 MPH 1-2 slider 5-3 Dodgers. HR No. 11 for Betts in 2022.
A one-out hit-by-pitch on Justin Turner and two-out, two-run home run to right by Chris Taylor, on another two-strike pitch, put the Dodgers up 7-3.
Gray’s 21-pitch third left him at 80 pitches overall, and ended his outing.
“A lot of arm-side misses,” Martinez said after the game. “Didn’t execute well tonight. Could have been a little bit that he was amped up to face his old team, but coming into the series we know about the Dodgers, and they walk, and they hit homers, and if you look at what they did: walk, home run, walk, home run, hit batter, walk, home run. His pitch count got high, so we were hoping to get a little bit more out of him because our bullpen has been pitching a lot, but I’m not going to send him out there with 80 pitches after three anymore.”
And the home runs on two-strike pitches?
“Like I said, just location. Just didn’t finish. Like I said, he was a lot of arm-side misses, couldn’t locate his fastball at all, breaking balls, some were sharp, some weren’t.”