It’s coming one of these days. Following Saturday’s loss in Miami, Washington’s Nationals were 52-99 overall, one loss away from the organization’s first 100-loss season since their bad days in 2008 (103) and 2009 (102), though those hundred loss years gave them their No. 1 overall picks which they used on Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. But it’s going to happen for Davey Martinez and Co., though they avoided it with a salvage job Sunday.
“For me it’s been tough,” Martinez said of all the losing this season before the series finale in Miami. “Because I do love to win. I love to win games, but I understand where we’re at, I understand the process of this whole thing ... [but]... honestly I didn’t even know we were that close [to 100 losses], I really didn’t. I’m focused on getting these guys better, and having these guys being ready to compete next year, and getting better, and hopefully our record would indicated that next year as well. So for me, it’s all about getting these guys out there, teaching them every day, and making sure that when they leave here this year we have a plan for them moving forward for Spring Training.”
Davey Martinez and Co. on the Nationals’ coaching staff have been watching Josiah Gray closely over his last few outings as he approached and surpassed his previous season-high for innings pitched/overall workload. Martinez talked after the 24-year-old starter’s six-inning outing on Friday night in Miami, FL, about what he saw from the righty in terms of his arm strength, and his mechanics in his 27th turn in the rotation (5.17 ERA, 5.87 FIP, 64 walks, 152 Ks, an MLB-high 37 home runs allowed, and a .244/.329/.497 line against in 142 2⁄3 IP), which saw him give up a total of four runs on eight hits in a 5-2 loss to the Fish.
“Today, I looked at him, he was sharp throughout the whole game. He really was. He didn’t look fatigued. He didn’t work really hard. He was very efficient, so that makes it good,” the fifth-year skipper told reporters.
“He’s had a decent year for us,” Martinez continued.
“He’s pitched a lot. We know he’s pitched a lot. This is the most innings he’s pitched, so it’s time to sit down and really contemplate what we’re going to do with him next.”
Given a few days to think about it, and talk with the pitcher and his coaches and trainers, the Nats’ manager confirmed (after Gray was listed as the probable starter for the third of three with the Atlanta Braves in D.C. this week) on Sunday morning he would run Gray out there for at least one more outing in the final week of the 2022 campaign.
Josiah Gray, Knee-Buckling 84mph Curveball. pic.twitter.com/TYwi8lngvH— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 23, 2022
How did he come to the decision?
“One, he’s still strong,” Martinez explained. “He’s still throwing the ball well. And two is we don’t know what’s going to happen with [Patrick] Corbin yet.
“Corbin [back spasms] is going to skip a start. But like I said, I like the way [Gray] threw the ball [on Friday night].
“The big thing is — he threw a lot more changeups and we want to continue to see him develop his changeup. So we’re going to give him another start and then we’ll go from there.”
Continuing Gray’s development, Martinez said, was part of the decision-making process when he talked to his staff.
“He deserves it,” Martinez added.
“He’s learning. He’s developing. Like I’ve told him before, this has been a process.
“We’re just going to keep going, see how you’re doing, but ultimately we’re going to have to make a decision on when. So we’ll give him one more start and see where we’re at.”
With Gray’s ultra-competitive nature, Martinez said, he’s going to say he can keep going if allowed, so the manager (with input from his own staff, and the club’s analytical folks), will ultimately get together and make the decision when their starter is done for the year.
“He’s very competitive, not only when he’s pitching on the field, but every day he’s trying to get better,” Martinez told reporters, “but we got to look back and understand where we’re at with him, right? This is the most he’s ever pitched. We’re building for the future. We need him next year to come back ready to go, be stronger, and obviously, if things go well, he’s going to be up in the 180s, 190s next year, maybe more than that, so we got to really, like I said, for me it’s about watching him but yet not trying to ruin his development.
“That’s a big part of it, but we’ll have to make a decision here soon about what we’re going to do.
“Like I said, we talked about it. We talked to him about how he felt. He felt good.
“We watched his mechanics, we sat down with some of our trainers, they said everything was clean, so we’ll give him another start.”
Going into Saturday’s game against the Marlins, Davey Martinez said he wanted his club to be aggressive against Sandy Alcantara, Miami’s right-handed starter, who took the mound with a 0.84 ERA and a .200/.252/.218 line against in 32 IP in his four starts against the Nats this season. The approach didn’t work so well when they’d faced Alcantara in the previous outing, a complete game, 103-pitch outing in which he’d given up just a run on seven hits (six of them singles).
Martinez recommended a similar approach this time out in spite of the results.
“You’ve got to be aggressive with him,” he said. “[Alcantara is] going to be around the strike zone, so I thought we hit the ball well against him last time, we just couldn’t score, and his pitch count was down so he ended up going a complete game. We’ve got to be aggressive and hopefully today we’ll put a bunch of hits together and get some runs.”
Yeah, not so much. Joey Meneses was aggressive, taking a 99 MPH sinker inside out to right field for an opposite field blast in the first, but the home run accounted for the only run they scored on the Marlins’ starter in eight innings on the mound.
“You look around the league and there are some guys who are very, very aggressive, and you’ve got some that are very patient,” Martinez said when asked about his hitters taking aggressive swings and having an aggressive approach at the plate.
“For us, we’ve got guys like to swing the bat. We’re trying to teach them more — we want them to swing, but we want to limit their chase. We want them to have an idea of what they’re really good at, and what they can hit, and that’s a work in progress.
“I know that CJ [Abrams] has done a way better job since we got him about getting balls in the zone, not chasing as much, getting balls up where he’s really good. And same [with] Luis [García, who] has gotten better. Now the reason why he’s not hitting consistently is because he is chasing again, and we’re trying to get him back in the zone. And Keibert [Ruiz] was doing a lot better before he got hurt about getting the ball in the zone. So I want these guys to be aggressive, especially with guys in scoring position, but be aggressive knowing that you’re looking for a pitch in your zone, something that you can hit hard, and then work the counts accordingly.”
So far this season, we’ve seen Jackson Tetreault, Evan Lee, Cade Cavalli (though all three of them ended up getting injured), Joan Adon has been back up after debuting late in 2021, a couple older pitchers like Cory Abbott have had a chance to start with the injuries the club has dealt with, so is there anyone else in the minors, Davey Martinez was asked on Sunday, he still wants to see before the season comes to an end on October 5th?
“Yeah, there’s some guys,” Martinez said.
“We have a guy down there that looks pretty interesting in [Tommy] Romero that we picked up. We got guys here too that I really want to see. I like — Abbott is interesting. Abbott has learned a lot of different things here, he competes. So I still want to give him an opportunity to go out there and start and see where we’re at with him as well.
“We’ll see how this all plays out. I want to get MacKenzie [Gore] — hopefully he has a good [rehab] outing tomorrow, and then we’ll see where he’s at, and get him up here and let him get a start as well.”
Gore, of course, was acquired from the San Diego Padres in the Juan Soto/Josh Bell trade, and he’s been working his way back after landing on the IL with elbow inflammation right before the deadline deal.
Romero? The 25-year-old, selected off waivers from Tampa Bay on August 25th, has put up a 2.50 ERA, eight walks, and 13 Ks in five games (two starts) and 18 IP for Triple-A Rochester in Washington’s organization. Why does the big league skipper think he’s interesting?
“He’s a smart pitcher,” Martinez said.
“He’s not going to overpower you, but he’s got a good mix of pitches. He’s been competing down there, and they’re teaching him some other things down there as well. He’s another guy that we’ve been keeping our eye on, so we’ll see. Whether it’s this year, or whether it’s next year, we’ll see where we’re at with him.”
If you’ve been following the Nationals’ minor league development feed on Twitter, you may have noticed the club has some of their top prospects in West Palm Beach, FL for the start of Instructional League action, and on Saturday night, they took the group to Miami for an opportunity to watch a big league game, and meet with Washington’s GM, Mike Rizzo, and manager, Davey Martinez, who were in town to take on the Marlins.
Martinez said he was thrilled with the opportunity to meet the next generation of prospects in the Nationals’ system.
“It was a great group,” Martinez said after a 4-1 loss to the Fish on Saturday night. “Very young, as we know. But like I said, it’s nice to see those guys, I know we’re going to see them a lot more in the future, but those guys that come to Instructional League, it’s a jump-step to their career moving forward. These are the guys that we really feel like they got an opportunity to get better, to get better quick, and come up here and help us in some form.
“So it was nice to go out there and introduce myself, talk to them, tell them what we’re kind of looking for when they come up here, and wish them all the best moving forward. What I did notice, we’ve got some big kids. We’ve got some studs down there, so I’m looking forward to actually getting my hands on them and start working with them a little bit as well.”