Josiah Gray had what manager Davey Martinez described as a “Max Scherzer moment” late in his August 15th outing against the Chicago Cubs in the nation’s capital. With the 24-year-old starter up to 100 pitches even with two out in the sixth, Martinez walked out to the mound, but after a respectfully obstinate exchange, during which the starter briefly argued his case for the right to stay in the game and finish off the inning, the manager walked back to the dugout without taking the ball.
Five pitches later, Gray got the third out in what ended up a 5-4 win for the home team.
“He always wants to stay in the game, you know,” Martinez told reporters of the visit with his starter on the mound in Nationals Park, “and I don’t know what he was saying, but when I came out there, the only thing that he said was, ‘Davey...’ and I said, ‘Hey, you don’t have to say anything, okay.’ I said, ‘I’m not taking you out.’ I said, ‘You’re going to finish the inning.’ I said, ‘This is a very important moment for you and for us, so you can do it. So c’mon, let’s go.’”
“Yeah, it was kind of a Scherzer moment I think, but it was good.”
Gray struck Patrick Wisdom out and showed a little more emotion than usual, yelling and gesticulating as he left the mound with his 10th K from 26 Cubs’ batters faced in a 105-pitch, two walk, five-hit, three run appearance, in which he did give up two more homers, for an MLB-high 31 home runs allowed in 118 1⁄3 IP on the season (2.36 HR/9). His manager appreciated the show of emotion from the usually stoic starter.
“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, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman after the outing.
“I got the strikeout and just let it out. It was a really fun moment.”
“This is a moment we’re going to grow from,” he added. “I’m glad that he kept me out there with full confidence, and I got that out.”
The next step in his development?
“Maybe get through seven innings and 105 pitches, that would be awesome,” Martinez said in advance of this past Saturday’s outing for Gray in San Diego.
“But I mean he’s — the last two outings have been really good, and let’s build off of that.”
Martinez talked before the third of four with the Padres in Petco Park, about what he and his staff are watching for down the stretch as they try to make sure the starter is still good to go deep into his first full season in the majors.
“Right now we’re looking at just kind of the wear and tear. In-game, how he reacts in-game. Mechanics. A lot of mechanics. Is he using his lower half? Things of that nature,” Martinez explained. “Is he flying open? We’ll keep an eye on all that stuff. That’s probably an indication that, yeah, he’s probably getting tired, so we’ll have to watch him, but like I said with Josiah, man, he works every day to get better. He’s strong as a bull, he really is. So it’s fun to watch him pitch, but it’s also fun to watch him work on his routine. It’s really, really good.”
Gray threw 102 pitches over five innings against the Padres, holding the home team off the board through 4 2⁄3, before Josh Bell’s two-out solo shot (on Gray’s 100th pitch) tied things up at 1-1.
It was home run No. 32 off Gray this season.
He walked a season-high five batters, struck out three, gave up a total of four hits, and just the one run, with nine swinging and 14 called strikes in a solid, if not spectacular, outing.
The issue as his manager saw it?
“Efficiency, pitch efficiency,” Martinez said after the 2-1 loss to the Padres.
“His location was not good today, but what I did see was that he battled through it and he gave us five innings. Just the pitch count got up there.”
“I think he just — he was pulling a lot,” the manager added, in diagnosing why Gray had the trouble he did.
“His mechanics were off a little bit, but like I said, he made pitches when he needed to, he fell behind a lot, but he made pitches when he needed to.”
“I feel like I let the team down a bit,” Gray said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman after the outing.
“I didn’t take care of my responsibilities going out there throwing the innings that I should. Five innings this late in the season doesn’t really get the job done.”
“I’d say the frustration takes over the general picture. But highlighting getting out of two bases-loaded jams ... there’s some good. But I don’t think the good should overshadow the lack of command, or going (only) five innings.”