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Washington Nationals looking to get Josiah Gray back on track after tough start vs MIA

One of the more consistent starters for the Nationals had a rough outing...

MLB: Miami Marlins at Washington Nationals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Josiah Gray threw five scoreless innings on 101 pitches when he faced Miami back on June 8th in the Marlins’ home, part of an impressive five-start run in the last month-plus in which the 24-year-old right-hander had put up a 1.24 ERA, a 3.68 FIP, 12 walks, and 31 Ks in 29 total innings pitched, with opposing hitters putting up a .155/.250/.243 line on him during that stretch.

“He’s pitching great,” GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies this past Wednesday.

“He’s pitching terrific. He’s great.”

“He’s pitching great. We’re happy to see progression in each and every start for him. He’s gaining confidence. He’s mixing in the changeup more often. He’s throwing two different breaking balls, his curveball and his slider, which is his go-to pitch, and he’s really competing and pounding the strike zone. So he pounds the strike zone and he goes deeper into games, gives ourselves a chance to win it, and he’s pitching great, and I just like to see the progression of these young players and these young pitchers moving forward. It’s kind of refreshing to see guys getting better at the major league level, which is often difficult to do.”

“He’s been remarkable,” 42-year-old, 18-year veteran Nelson Cruz said after Gray struck out nine in seven innings on the road in Texas.

“He’s been the most consistent pitcher we have, so, and today was a good example. He was dealing, throwing the pitches where he wants it, it was nice to see that.”

Gray is still young, of course, and relatively in experienced, and there are going to be some bumps in the road, like his outing against the Marlins on Friday.

How did his manager sum up the 5 23-inning, 10-hit, six-run start against the Fish?

“I’ll break it down as nine batters he was ahead, punched out six, seven batters he fell behind, five guys got on base, home run, and a couple hits,” Davey Martinez said after the 6-3 loss for the Nationals.

“So, once again, when he works ahead, he’s really good, and we’ve seen that in the past, so we’ve got to get him to continue to work ahead, throw strikes, get ahead of hitters, and put them away.

“Today, you saw some of the hits they got. It wasn’t like he threw the ball awful, but he fell behind, so, and like I said, on a bunch of hitters, and that’s where they beat him up, but we’ll get him going, [pitching coach Jim] Hickey is going to talk to him this week about a few things, and then get him back on track.”

Gray fell behind Brian Anderson and gave up a leadoff home run on a 2-1 fastball in the first at-bat of the third, and Joey Wendle and Garrett Cooper both drove in runs on 2-1 pitches later in the third inning. Jon Berti hit a sac fly on a full-count pitch in the fifth, and drove in a run on a 2-1 pitch in the sixth.

“It wasn’t good,” Gray said in assessing his own outing, as quoted by the Washington Post’s Andrew Golden.

“Just a lot of — not so much hard contact but a lot of contact. They put some contact on some well-placed pitches but also some poorly located pitches.”

“The misses weren’t horrible, just he was missing,” Martinez added. “And when you’re 2-1, 3-1, 2-0, and then all of a sudden now you’ve got to throw the ball over the plate, and that’s what happened to him today.”

“You have to throw the ball more for strikes,” Martinez continued, stating the obvious when asked what changes Gray or any starter can make if they keep falling behind. “When he’s ahead he can bury his slider, he can elevate his fastball, he can do a lot of different things.

“When you’re falling behind you really got to get the ball in the zone, and good hitters, good hitters when you do that, they’re not going to miss mistakes.”

“We’ve seen this before,” Martinez continued when asked about patterns when Gray’s falling behind in the count, “when he’s ahead of counts — I keep track of every game with him, and when he’s ahead, he’s nasty. I mean, he really is. He’s got good put-away pitches, so we got to get him to continue to work ahead, stay ahead.

“And the other thing too is get early outs, don’t work deep in counts every batter, when he gets ahead, 0-1, he can still get a nice swing on a ball he wants to throw.

“And he’s done that, and that’s where you see the efficiency, pitch efficiency, where he’s going deep in games, but like I said, we’ll get him back to that and come back in five days and see where he’s at.”