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Washington Nationals’ Josiah Gray on 2022 lessons; 2023 plans, tweaks & more…

Josiah Gray on working to prepare for the 2023 campaign…

MLB-Chicago Cubs at Washington Nationals

Josiah Gray, who turned 25 years old this past December 21st, finished the 2022 campaign, his first full season in the big leagues, with a 5.02 ERA, a 5.86 FIP, an NL-leading 66 walks (4.00 BB/9), 154 Ks (9.32 K/9), a major league-leading 38 HRs allowed, and a .239/.324/.489 line against in 28 starts and 148 23 innings on the mound.

“I thought he’s had a really productive year for himself as far as his progression as a guy who never pitched anywhere near 100 innings before and got well past that,” Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo explained at the end of a disappointing season for Washington’s ballclub.

Gray, Rizzo said, made it through his first full season, with the club handling his workload carefully, “… and showed a propensity to miss bats and had stretches of dominance.”

“Like a lot of young players, and young pitchers, consistency is the name of the game here. It’s hard to get to the big leagues. It’s even harder to stay in the big leagues, and it’s really difficult to excel in the big leagues, and I think that’s his next progression, but I like what I see every five days. He takes the ball, he’s hungry for the ball, he’s a competitor and a great athlete on the mound, I think he’s got a high ceiling and I was really encouraged how he finished the season.”

The fact he finished the 2022 campaign healthy is what stood out for Gray when the right-hander took a moment to look back on what he’d accomplished in his second season in D.C. following the trade deadline deal which brought him over from LA’s Dodgers in 2021.

“I think the first thing that comes to mind is just being healthy for a full season and reflecting on that with teammates, friends and such,” Gray said in an interview on MASN’s Hot Stove show earlier this month. “They were saying, ‘Hey, you stayed healthy from April through September. That’s a testament to the work you put in.”

While it was a big deal for Gray to get through a full season healthy, he echoed his GM’s assessment when it came to his own take on his performance on the hill.

“Just in thinking of performance-wise, obviously got to be a lot more consistent,” Gray told the MASN hosts. “I think the Nationals know that, we all know that, and they’re just employing in me a good strategy to go out there and just learn, being a young guy in the rotation, so just learning from every outing and just taking things from each outing and then going with it.

“This year was really good in terms of health and everything like that, but I expect this upcoming year to be a lot better performance-wise along with knowing that I can perform for a full major league season.”

Gray has been down in Florida since the second week of January, putting in work as he prepares for the 2023 season and another run in the Nats’ rotation.

“Everything has been feeling good,” Gray said, “throwing bullpens, and just getting ready for a good camp, healthy camp, and just looking forward to it.”

Gray got up to 130 innings in 2019 in LA’s system as he worked his way up to the majors, but the 148 23 IP overall were the most he’s thrown in a season in pro ball, and he came through it feeling good and learned some of what it takes to make it through that grind and finish strong.

“I was feeling good,” late in the year, Gray said of how his body reacted as the innings piled up. “My velocity — which I would say is one of the main indications of how tired someone might be — was actually up as the year progressed. So I was feeling good, but the Nationals, [manager] Davey [Martinez], [Pitching Coach] Jim Hickey, and Mike Rizzo, they obviously had a good plan ahead in terms of shutting me down with my innings and making sure that things were okay.

“And now as I reflect in the offseason I feel really good and I feel prepared to throw that many innings, I think it was around 150, and prepared to throw more than that, whatever the situation dictates and whatever the team might need. But I feel really good, and I think last year was a really good stepping-stone in just proving to myself I can be healthy for a full year.”

Making it through the season is of course a big step, but improving his on-field performance is a key going forward, and throughout the 2022 run, Gray’s skipper talked often about mechanical tweaks to the pitcher’s delivery the club believed could straighten out some of the issues they identified.

Martinez said earlier this winter Gray was working on fixing some of the things the club recommended he work on over the winter.

“He started a little bit of it,” Martinez told reporters at the 2022-23 Winter Meetings in early December (‘22).

“The whole — I was trying to get him more, like we talked about, more over his front side, not arm side, not leaking arm side. So he is starting. Until he really gets on the mound and really starts going, you can’t really do much, but I know he’s working on a lot of hip mobility to fix his front hip, which will definitely help him out a lot.

“As soon as he starts throwing, I know Hickey had plans to go down and see him and start talking to him about what needs to happen to get him where he needs to be.”

Gray said he feels good about some of the fixes he’s been working on.

“I feel really good,” Gray told the MASN hosts. “There are definitely some things I do uniquely in my delivery that sort of can’t get worked out, but there are definitely some things — early on I attacked in this offseason — I’ll touch on them, just direction and thinking of how I’m loading my back side and things like that that I feel like I’m in a really good place with. I feel like I’ve seen a lot of progress from October to now and February, so the work has definitely been put in on those things, and during Spring Training the work doesn’t stop so that’s going to be another progression there, and I think when April rolls around I’ll be ready to go and feeling as confident in my mechanics and my body and everything like that as I have ever been.”

Along with mechanical tweaks, Gray said he made some changes to his pitch mix along the way last season he hopes will help him when he takes on hitters again in another run through the league.

Gray threw 39.2% four-seam fastballs on the season last year, giving up 24 of 38 HRs allowed on his fastball, on which opposing hitters had a .304 AVG, and he mixed in a slider (29.5%, .189 BAA), curveball (24.8%, .185 BAA), sinker (3.7%, .333 BAA), and changeup (2.8%, .600 BAA).

“I think in terms of my fastball — as I progressed through the minor leagues that was debatably my best pitch,” he said when asked how he mixed things up as the season went along, “… and the past two years in the major leagues that’s probably been my worst pitch, and just understanding that and coming to grips with that, it provides perspective in wanting to tweak your arsenal and just thinking about how I can get outs at the major league level, because that’s what matters.

“So, in implementing the two-seam fastball later in the year, seeing success with that, it’s been definitely freer on the mind of just thinking, ‘Hey, I have another fastball I can throw up there that can stay off the barrel, can get a swing and miss,’ something like that, so it’s been a good plan with that and also just staying true with the breaking balls. Curveball, slider, been working on the changeup as I have for the past few years and I feel like my arsenal is in a really good spot, and I’m excited to throw it against hitters and just see what they say and take that feedback.”