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Josiah Gray struggles with command; gives up three homers in 6-4 loss to Seattle...

Josiah Gray struggled with his command and gave up three home runs in Wednesday’s loss to the Mariners...

Seattle Mariners v Washington Nationals - Game One Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Josiah Gray set a new career high in Ks in his outing against Philadelphia’s Phillies last week, on a night when his fastball and slider were playing off one another in the way they do when the 24-year-old right-hander is at his best.

“His slider has late bite, but his fastball, and we talk about this all the time, when he can throw his fastball around the plate, and be consistent with throwing his fastball, that makes his slider a lot better,” manager Davey Martinez told reporters after Gray K’d 11 of the 23 Philly hitters he faced.

“So he did that tonight. He had eleven strikeouts, so when he pounds the strike zone like he did, and can make pitches when he needs to, he gives us good outings all the time. The key is, for him, as I said earlier, is really trying to work ahead, throwing strike one, when he does that he’s really effective.”

“It honestly felt the same tonight,” Gray explained, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman after the start against the Phillies.

“Just throwing with more conviction. I kind of split the zone in half, get it to the top half of the zone. I had really good results with the fastball today, along with the other pitches. That’s obviously encouraging for the next outing, and something to build on, for sure.”

His manager said he just wanted to see Gray improve as he has throughout his first full big league season this year before yesterday’s turn in the rotation against Seattle’s Mariners.

“Just to continue his growth, and attacking the strike zone, getting ahead early,” Martinez explained, “... and finishing off hitters in 3-4 pitches. He’s done well.

“And I just want him to go out there, and like I said, continue to build off what he’s done.”

Because as fun and impressive as the 11 strikeouts were, the fifth-year skipper said, there are negatives when you’re piling up Ks and throwing a lot of pitches.

“The strikeouts come with a price though, you know. It’s called pitches, right? We’re trying to teach him how to stay in the game, seventh inning, eighth inning with 100 pitches or less. For him it’s a double-edged sword: He can strike out guys. We know that. But we want him to go out there and attack the zone early, and try to get some early swings, some early contact, and try to keep the pitch count down.”

Gray threw 12 of 22 pitches for strikes in the first going up against the Mariners in the first game of a doubleheader in D.C., giving up two walks and a 439-foot, 3-run HR by Eugenio Suárez in the opening frame, then in the fourth he gave up two solo shots as he struggled with his fastball command and focused on his breaking balls for the most part, 5-0.

He ended up throwing 95 pitches overall in just five innings against the Mariners.

Josiah Gray’s Line: 5.0 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 7 Ks, 97 P, 57 S, 5/2 GO/FO.

Gray generated 12 swinging strikes (on 39 swings total; 31%) and he got 18 called strikes (10 with his curve), with the velocity on his three main offerings up slightly, as he threw 38% fastballs this time out, 36% curves, 24% sliders, and 2% changeups, after he threw 46% four-seamers, 26% curves and sliders, and 2% changeups in his 11-K start against the Phillies last week.

On the year, he’d thrown 42.5% fastballs, 28.9% sliders, 24.7% curves, and 3.4% changeups overall before yesterday’s outing.

The struggles with his fastball command, Martinez explained, was tied to his mechanics, and, as MASN’s Mark Zuckerman noted, a tendency to land on his left foot pointing over towards the first base dugout as opposed to home. It’s something they are aware of and think they can fix in the offseason.

“He can correct it, and he’s done it in the past,” Martinez said. “Today, he was just —unusual for him not to stay on his legs. So when that happens, he was getting underneath the ball, and everything was just sailing away from him, so, I talked to him after the game, as always, when he throws strikes, and he works ahead of hitters, he’s really good. I think he was ahead of seven hitters, struck out five batters. The key for him is to get ahead of hitters, and he knows that, just his fastball command was not there today, that’s something that we can correct in his next bullpen. But we got to get him back in his legs, and once we do that he’ll start working downhill. I think that’s a relatively easy problem to fix, because he’s done it, I know he can do it. So, we’ll get him back.”

“I just didn’t get my feet underneath me as much as I’d like to,” Gray said after his outing.

“Those two walks obviously came back to hurt me there against Suárez, but yeah, fastball command wasn’t there early on and Suárez put a good swing on that ball.

“Tough first inning, obviously, but to get through five and give these guys some sort of length is definitely a positive.”

Martinez told reporters he and the Nationals’ brass knew Gray and other young Nationals would be learning on the job this season, and it’s just about them taking advice and then applying it as they go forward.

“We definitely knew there were going to be some ups and downs. And there’s going to be a whole lot of teaching moments. But one thing I can say about JoJo is that he’s been great. He’s been awesome. He wants feedback after every time he pitches. ... He’s just a great kid to work with.”

Gray said he takes the positives and looks at the negatives as well, and learns what he can from each start.

“Obviously you think about the negative parts, the bad pitches, things like that,” Gray told reporters, “but it’s part of the game, and then you try to focus on the positives, and iron out the kinks, but yeah, it’s sort of just realizing that negatives and poor outcomes are a part of pitching, and understanding that, and also understanding that positive outcomes are a part of pitching, and just kind of taking the two and keeping your mind as straight as possible knowing that negative things can happen and will happen, but also positive things can and will happen as well.”