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Washington Nationals news & notes: Josiah Gray shows signs of improvement, but still plenty of work to be done...

Notes and quotes from Josiah Gray’s 2023 campaign...

With a solid month of September, (2.95 ERA, 4.94 FIP, .241/.322/.430 line against over four starts and 21 13 innings pitched), Josiah Gray lowered his ERA to 3.91 on the year, wrapping up his second full season in the majors (and third season overall) with a strong run to end a rough second half to that point (5.79 ERA, 5.40 FIP, .252/.372/.392 line against in 37 13 IP between July 16th-August 28th).

Though his walks were up over his 2022 total (80 in 159 IP, 4.53 BB/9; up from 66 in 148 23 IP; 4.00 BB/9 in ‘22), Gray gave up 16 fewer home runs this season (22 total; 1.59 HR/9; down from a league-leading 38; 2.30 HR/9 in ‘22), something that Washington’s brass noticed and celebrated.

“It was another good step in his development,” GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies of Gray’s season overall late in September.

“He realizes the walks are a critical part of his success and he needs to improve on that, but he has improved on that a little bit.

“He has, obviously, improved on his home run ratio, and his stuff is better, his poise is better, he attacks the strike zone.

“He’s got some swing-and-miss pitches. So he’s made a great transition. It was a good growing year for him.”

It was also a second full, healthy season for the 25-year-old right-hander acquired from Los Angeles in the Max Scherzer/Trea Turner deal with the Dodgers in 2021, who got up to 30 starts this year, and the aforementioned 159 IP.

“Thirty starts,” Rizzo said. “He made it through the season at 30 starts, and we’re hoping next year he just takes it and runs with it and pitches that 180-200 innings and we don’t have to monitor him, we don’t have to worry about him, we don’t have to do anything just give him the ball every five days and let him roll.”

Pulling stats to highlight for Gray in their Season in Review, the Nationals pointed to the following:

• In his second full season with the Nationals, Gray was named a National League All-Star for the first time...Was voted “Good Guy” by the D.C. media.

• Posted career-highs in wins (8), starts (30) and IP (159.0)...Posted a 2.55 ERA (19 ER/67.0 IP) with 5 HR[s] allowed in 12 starts from April 6 to June 9.

• Ranked 6th in MLB (3rd in NL) with a 2.97 road ERA...Finished strong, posting a 2.01 ERA (4 ER/17.1 IP) with 21 SO and 5 BB in his last 3 starts.

• Ranked in the NL with RISP in opp. SLG (2nd, .232) & opp. AVG (3rd, .195)...He allowed just 4 XBH hits with RISP (3 2B, HR) & zero w/bases loaded.

• 16 fewer HR than 2022 (38)...2023 Pitch Mix: Slider (24.6%) Cutter (17.8%) Sinker (17.2%) 4-Seam (17%) Curve (16.2%) Sweeper (5.5%) Change (1.6%).

“It first starts with pitch usage,” Gray said in a recent MLB Network interview when asked how things changed for him this season, “wanting to lean on my better pitches, knowing those are my slider and my curveball.”

The data he and the Nationals’ baseball ops people looked at led Gray to rethink his whole approach.

“It was just understanding that the success I had with those pitches, it was because I was throwing them,” he explained.

“So how do I highlight them more, but also keep them effective, and then introducing a cutter, giving the lefties a weapon they had to respect on the inside part of the plate, with good velocity.”

Looking at a breakdown of his pitch selection in 2022 and ‘23, Gray offered the following insight on what stood out.

“I think the first thing you see is a lot more even splits of every pitch,” he said. “Every pitch kind of had a point in my repertoire to how I was going to use it.

“In 2022, I was a three-pitch guy, hitters were kind of setting up for that, and they acted as if they knew what was going to come.

“So then this year introducing a cutter, introducing a more breaking ball-oriented approach, was able to have fastball usage play up a little bit more, and it was a lot more effective this year.”

Gray’s manager was happy to see the starter finish up with a strong outing in his final start, against the postseason-bound Orioles (6.0 IP, 5 H, 2 BB, 1 ER, 7 Ks), using his fastball and his changeup effectively on the road in Baltimore.

“He did really well,” Martinez explained. “Used all his pitches. Changeup, threw some really good changeups today. But his fastball was good. It was electric today. Proud of him.

“He finished up the season really strong, we can build off of that for next year.”

The next step?

“What you saw today,” Martinez said. “Really. What you saw today, I think he could repeat that every five days. And now, like I said, this should build confidence for him, especially using his changeup, using his fastballs, locating his fastball. This was a great step forward for him, and like I said, going home this winter and building off of that will be awesome.”

Gray said the strong month of September and good final start against the O’s allowed him to go into the offseason on a positive note.

“I think anytime you can finish on a strong outing, it takes you into the offseason with a positive mindset,” he said. “Feel like you can kind of check that box. So I’ve been able to have a last couple good outings, but this one obviously feels sweet going into the offseason knowing that some of the changes I’ve made over the last three outings have obviously [bred] results. So I can focus on those things and look forward to the offseason being positive and getting back after it next year.”

As happy as he was with the final outing and his season overall, the Nationals’ lone All-Star representative this year said there is obviously still plenty of room for improvement.

“It’s been a crazy season,” Gray said. “Obviously being named an All-Star is something I never dreamed of and being able to go out there and succeed, and just to be in that environment was surreal.

“And then to struggle after the break was also something that was tough. Can’t really put it into words. You know, it made kind of like [question], ‘Man, what am I doing here? Where are things going?’

“So, to be able to rebound from that, obviously with the confidence of my teammates, the confidence of the staff, it means a lot, it keeps you going out there working every day to know that brighter days are ahead.

“This year, it’s been a good year,” Gray concluded. “But I know there’s a lot more work to be done.”