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Josiah Gray rewards manager’s faith in solid outing vs Cubs in Nationals’ 5-4 win

Josiah Gray bounced back from a few bad outings last week in Chicago, and impressed again in last night’s start against the Cubs in D.C.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Washington Nationals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

A tough four-inning outing against the Philadelphia Phillies in Citizens Bank Park, in which he gave up five hits (four of them home runs), three walks, and six earned runs in a 7-2 loss, had Washington Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez talking cautiously about how their club would handle 24-year-old right-hander Josiah Gray over the last weeks of his first full major league campaign.

“We’re keeping a close eye on him,” the Nationals’ fifth-year manager said.

“He’s worked really hard to keep himself going. Hopefully, we won’t have to shut him down because I know he does not want that. He wants to continue to go. But we’ll monitor him.”

Gray told reporters after that outing, as quoted by’s Jessica Camerato, he didn’t think there was any need to shut things down or even consider it.

“Sometimes it’s not going to go my way. But in terms of physically and everything like that, I feel like I’m prepared for every start that I’m lined up for.”

Gray backed those words up when he took on the Chicago Cubs in Wrigley Field last week, with a strong, 6 13-inning outing in which he gave up seven hits (one a HR), and two runs in a 96-pitch outing in a 2-1 loss, striking out five, without allowing a walk for the first time in a start since mid-May.

“I think today definitely was a change in mindset,” Gray told reporters, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman. “Mixing in a couple different things and trying to locate at the bottom of the zone while also accessing the top. The curveball wasn’t working as well today as I wanted to, but I was able to throw my fastball down and my slider off of that. I think there’s a lot of room for success when I’m doing that. I’m definitely going to take that into my next outing and continue to pound the bottom of the zone, use the top of the zone as well.”

Gray’s outing started with six scoreless, but he came back out for the seventh and gave up a leadoff home run and one out single, with the runner he’d left on coming around to score for the second of the two runs he allowed.

“Throughout the whole game, he kept the ball down, he elevated when he needed to, and then that last inning,” his manager said after the game, “started getting the balls up, slider didn’t have that bite like it had earlier, but that’s six+ innings at 96 pitches, for me that’s a great outing for him.

“After a couple games of struggles, he made some adjustments, which was awesome, so if we can continue to build off of that, that’s great.”

GM Mike Rizzo dismissed any talk of shutting Gray down early this season in his weekly visit with 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies last Wednesday.

“No, we’re not thinking of shutting him down,” Rizzo explained. “He’ll dictate when he’s had enough, if he’s had enough. We’re trying to get him through the season, it’s his first full season pitching in the big leagues, I think that he’s shown flashes of what he’s going to be in the future. The guy has swing and miss stuff, and like a lot of rookies in their rookie season, he makes occasional mistakes and he pays for it, because this is the big leagues, and there’s no higher league than this one.

“But all in all I think he’s progressing beautifully, I think that, again, you see flashes of him, and this guy taking the ball every five days is a way that he’s getting better each and every [time], and a guy that we know that can count on for years to come, and be one of our rotation starters that’s going to be in that next group of guys that’s going to be our next championship club.”

Gray got a glimpse of the future on Monday night in the nation’s capital as well, when he took on the Cubs again, for the second consecutive outing, and gave up five hits (two of them home runs), two walks, and three earned runs in six innings in which he struck out a total of 10 batters, and threw 105 pitches.

The last five pitches were in a two-out at-bat in the top in the sixth, with the Nationals up 4-3 and the potential tying run at second base. Martinez came out for a visit on the mound to talk to his starter, but ended up leaving him in.

“Yeah, it was kind of a Scherzer moment I think, but it was good,” Martinez said after Gray struck Patrick Wisdom out to end the threat before the Cubs rallied to tie it in the seventh, and Nelson Cruz homered to put the Nationals up for good, referring to some heated and well-documented exchanges he had with Max Scherzer during mound visits during their time together in D.C.

“He looked at me, and he says, ‘Davey...’ and I said, ‘Hey, you don’t have to say a word.’ I said, ‘I’ve just come out here to give you a little breather.’ I said, ‘You’re going to finish this inning,’ I said, ‘You’re the right guy. So go ahead and get a quick out here and let’s go.’ And I just walked back and went back to the dugout, but for me it was one of those growth moments he deserves and he was ready for it.

“I was watching the way he was throwing the ball, he was throwing the ball really well still, still in the mid-90s, his slider was still good, he was keeping the ball down, and when he can do that, I thought, I said, ‘Hey, I think he can get an out, I really do,’ and I left him out there.”

Gray got Wisdom swinging for one of 11 swinging strikes on the night (six on his slider, four with his fastball, and one with his curve), and he got 23 called strikes on the night (12 on his fastball, seven on his curve, three with his slider, and one with his sinker).

He let out an emotional scream after recording his 10th strikeout, and his manager loved it.

“Awesome,” Martinez said. “Awesome. I mean, that’s kind of what we’re looking for, right?

“And like I said, I thought it was a great growth moment for him.”

“Him coming out and having that full confidence sort of just amped me up,” Gray said after the win, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman. “I got the strikeout and just let it out. It was a really fun moment.”

The next step for Gray in his progression?

“Maybe get through seven innings and 105 pitches, that would be awesome,” Martinez said.

“But I mean he’s — the last two outings have been really good, and let’s build off of that.”

Gray told reporters he was happy to get a look at a lineup with CJ Abrams in it, with the 21-year-old shortstop acquired from San Diego in the Juan Soto/Josh Bell trade called up early on Monday to start at short in the series opener with the Cubs and down the stretch.

“It’s super exciting,” Gray said.

“For me personally, it gives me a little extra edge to go out there and dream on the future. These are the guys that can be your teammates for years to come.”