Josiah Gray - Year One:
Josiah Gray went 13 days between his last two starts before Sunday’s outing, with time off for the All-Star Break, but it was not the first time the 24-year-old righty has been given an extended break between his starts this season.
Washington’s Nationals have tried to manage Gray’s innings in his first full season in their organization following last July 30th’s trade from the Los Angeles Dodgers, which sent a couple players (named Max Scherzer and Trea Turner) out to LA in return for four players, (Gray, catcher Keibert Ruiz, pitcher Gerardo Carrillo, and outfielder Donovan Casey).
Manager Davey Martinez said, before Gray took on his one-time team last week, he thought his right-hander was handling his first full season in the majors fairly well, and making sure to get his work in between turns in the rotation so he’s sharp when he does take the mound.
“He’s been working,” Martinez explained in his pregame presser in Dodger Stadium. “I know he’s throwing extensive bullpens. Before the break, he threw closer to a 70-pitch bullpen, so he threw another good one here before this start, so we’re just hoping that one, it gave him some rest, he was able to work on a couple things he wanted to work on, that he comes out today and he’s fresh.”
Gray gave up five hits (two homers), two walks, and three runs in five innings of work on the mound against the Dodgers, in an 8-3 win for the Nationals, leaving him with a 4.45 ERA, a 5.32 FIP, 41 walks (3.80 BB/9), 112 Ks (10.39 K/9), and a .229/.312/.457 line against in 18 starts and 97 IP on the year.
Before he took on the St. Louis Cardinals yesterday, Martinez talked about the growth he’s seen from Gray since the pitcher made his debut with the Nationals last August 2nd.
“He’s really learned a lot about how to pitch in certain situations,” the fifth-year skipper told reporters. “What’s working that day. What he can get away with. Whether he’s got to pitch up, he’s got to pitch down, his breaking ball usage. On the flip side, we’ve still got to develop that changeup. And he understands that. He wants to try to use it more. He’s getting comfortable. Every time he goes out there he throws a couple more. But he’s still not very comfortable throwing it, but he has to throw it.”
Going into yesterday’s start, Gray’d thrown the change just 3.2% of the time in 2022, (with a .571 BAA on the pitch), relying mostly on his four-seam fastball (42.5%; .284), slider (28.3%; .169), and his curve (25.6%; .198), with the occasional (0.5%) sinker.
More than the pitch mix, Martinez said, the key when it comes to Gray is his ability to throw competitive strikes and stay ahead in the count.
“The biggest thing for him is getting ahead in counts,” Martinez said. “When he’s ahead in counts, he’s really, really good, and he’s got really good put-away pitches as we all know.
“But he’s been a lot better since I saw him first last year about attacking the strike zone,” the manager added.
“Knowing that he can attack the strike zone, not being afraid to throw strikes when he needs to, and how to use every pitch in certain situations, so he’s been really, really good, and then what I see in-between starts is phenomenal.”
Martinez, who talked during Scherzer’s tenure in D.C. about the between-starts work being as impressive as what the future Hall-of-Famer did on the mound, said he sees some really impressive, similar things with Gray, though he offered the necessary caveat about trying to compare anyone to Scherzer.
“His work ethic is really, really, really good. And I don’t want to compare him to anybody, but he’s very competitive,” Martinez said, “even the days he don’t pitch, and we had one guy like that that we’ll see this week, in Max Scherzer, right? Max was competitive, every day... every single day.
“[Gray] does that. He pushes himself in the weight room, to get stronger, to get better, he pushes himself every day, he’s constantly watching videos of his opponents, and actually going back and watching the games and seeing what he did wrong and what he can do better. This kid, he wants to be here, he wants to help us win, and we love having him here.”
On Sunday afternoon, Gray got through two innings on 29 pitches, striking out four of the first seven Cardinals’ batters he faced, but Corey Dickerson doubled down the line in right, took third on a wild pitch, and scored on a grounder off Dylan Carlson’s bat, 1-0 Cards.
Gray issued back-to-back, one-out walks to Nolan Gorman and Lars Nootbaar in a stretch in which he threw nine straight balls, and a two-out, three-run home run to right by Dickerson, who hit an 84 MPH, 2-1 curve out to give St. Louis a 4-0 lead in a 5-0 win in which the starter went five innings total.
He managed to get 13 swinging strikes on 38 swings, and 14 called strikes, seven with his fastball, six with his slider, and one with his curve, but as Martinez said after the loss, he’d fallen behind all day, and paid for it when he did.
“When he was ahead - I think he was ahead eight times today - nobody got on base. When he falls behind, he had a bunch of traffic. So, today I think it was almost 50-50 on balls and strikes. He’s got to be effective in the strike zone, get early contacts, like we talk about, but really, he’s got to really focus on getting ahead of hitters.”