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Washington Nationals news & notes: Nats can’t figure out Shohei Ohtani, Josiah Gray solid again in 2-0 loss...

Josiah Gray and Shohei Ohtani went head-to-head in a 2-0 win for the Angels in Anaheim...


Josiah Gray was up to 86 pitches after five innings in Colorado’s Coors Field, with just one run allowed. Gray, 25, ran into some trouble in what was a 1-0 game in the home team’s favor, but he worked around leadoff and one-out singles, stranding both runners in a 16-pitch sixth which left him at 102 pitches total.

“I wanted to see him work through that,” manager Davey Martinez said of leaving Gray in to test himself in a close game.

“Those are his runs, so he deserved a chance to get those guys out and ... he did a great job.”

For Gray, who struggled in his initial start of the 2023 campaign, a strong outing in Coors Field meant a lot.

“It’s super-big I think,” Gray said of the confidence boost he received from the outing. “With anything it’s just confidence. It’s a long year, we all know that. I probably have 30 more starts ahead. Some will be good, some will be bad. I understand that. I’ve kind of come to acknowledge that. But with every good start, you know, you just have that much more confidence coming out for the next one. So being able to rebound, especially after last outing, it always feels good, and now I have even more confidence to go out there next outing against the Angels and do my thing.”

“He was awesome,” Martinez said.

“He was pounding the strike zone. He got behind a couple times, but he was able to come back and pound that strike zone again, but his slider was really good today. Really good.

“So he kept their hitters off-balance, and I thought he used his fastball well today as well.”

Gray finished his outing with 19 swinging strikes, 11 with his slider, and he got a total of 12 called strikes (three on his slider, five on 4-seamer, and four on his curve).

Going up against the Los Angeles Angels on the road in Angel Stadium?

Gray gave up three hard-hit balls to left in a scoreless, 11-pitch first, with Taylor Ward, Mike Trout, and Shohei Ohtani hitting fly balls to Alex Call, Trout’s a 98.3 MPH screamer and the line drive by Ohtani leaving the bat at 99.6.

He retired the side in order in a 15-pitch second, and was up to seven straight outs to start the game before Gio Urshela singled with one down in the Angels’ third, but Gray got a 5-4-3 double play out of Logan O’Hoppe in the next at-bat for outs Nos. 2-3 of a 14-pitch frame which left him at 40 total after 3.0 scoreless.

Gray hit Ward and Trout in quick succession in the home-half of the fourth, putting both on to start the inning, and Ohtani singled to load the bases.

A passed ball with Anthony Rendon at the plate bounced off the backstop hard enough to keep the runners where they were, but a sac fly by Anthony Rendon brought Trout in from third for a 1-0 lead.

Hunter Renfroe stepped in next and hit the first pitch to third to start an inning-ending 5-4-3 DP and end a 24-pitch frame which left Gray at 64 total.

A 10-pitch, 1-2-3 fifth pushed him up to 74 pitches, and his 77th offering was a 2-0 cutter up and over the middle of the plate to O’Hoppe which went 414 feet to left for a leadoff homer and a 2-0 lead. Gray was up to 99 pitches overall when he walked Anthony Rendon (who, if you remember, walked more than he K’d in college), putting two on with two out, and up to 103 when he issued his second walk of the night to Hunter Renfroe, loading the bases... and that was it for Gray.

Josiah Gray’s Line: 5.2 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 3 Ks, 1 HR, 103 P, 55 S, 7/2 GO/FO.

Thaddeus Ward took over and froze Luis Rengifo with a backdoor breaking ball for a called strike three, stranding the three runners he inherited.

Gray went breaking ball heavy again, with 31% sliders and 25% curves on the night, with a total of eight swinging strikes, three on his curve; and 15 called strikes, 6 with his curve on the night, but he was able to mix in his other pitches as well, which pleased the pitcher and his manager.

“He struck [Ohtani] out on a changeup, his two-seamer was really good today as well ... I thought he threw the ball really well,” his manager said after the Nats’ 2-0 loss to the Angels.

“In the beginning he was good, got a little rattled,” Martinez added, “... hit the two guys, got out of it, and then all of a sudden he just lost control, walked a couple guys on eight straight pitches, so it was that time, but I thought he threw the ball well.”

“I faded a little bit there in the sixth,” Gray acknowledged, after his third loss in three starts (in which he’s received one run of support, total), “but just making the pitch when I needed to with runners on, and we know what that offense can do.

“So just bearing down and making the pitch in a big spot to keep the team in the game.”

Gray did say he thought he was able to make better use of his full arsenal against the Angels.

“I think the double play to O’Hoppe in the second or the third, that was a cutter. Just threw a lot more cutters to righties and they were really effective other than the home run that O’Hoppe hit. The changeup to Ohtani, that’s the first changeup I threw all year, so if I can throw them all like that, that would be awesome, but yeah, kind of just digging deep and throwing cutters in to lefties, getting early ground balls, just kind of a bag of tricks out there.”

Facing Ohtani:

Davey Martinez said he didn’t think any of his hitters had faced Shohei Ohtani before last night’s game, though third baseman Jeimer Candelario actually had, going 2 for 9 with two strikeouts head-to-head, but he was the only hitter on the roster with any exposure to the hard-throwing Angels’ right-hander before the second of three in Anaheim.

“This is something new for them, so I’m looking forward to it. I know they’re excited about the challenge. We know what he does, so we’ll see,” Martinez said in his pregame presser from Angel Stadium.

As for any insight into how they would approach the matchup, Martinez’s message was the same as it is for most games.

“We got to move the baseball,” he said. “The biggest thing is that we can’t chase. We got to get the ball in the strike zone, and if we do that, put the ball in play, we’ll see what happens.”

Not much. That was that answer. Not much happened.

Through five innings Ohtani walked a total of four batters, and struck out five, but he gave up just one hit.

It was 2-0 Angels when Ohtani returned for a scoreless seventh inning, which he finished at 92 pitches overall, having worked around a one-out walk for another zero on the board.

He turned it over to the bullpen there...

Martinez said after the 2-0 loss he thought Nationals’ hitters did a good job of keeping the Angels’ starter in the zone.

“Yeah, we kept him in the zone, worked good counts ... we swung the bat, a couple guys hit the ball hard, we just couldn’t get that one big hit with guys on base.”

“We took our walks,” he said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.

“We were trying to get him in the zone. Keibert hit the ball really hard in the first inning. That ball gets down the line, it’s a different game. But we hung in there.

“The at-bats were pretty good. We just couldn’t get the hit when we needed it.”


Thaddeus Ward retired the Angels in order in the home seventh. José Quijada did the same for LAA.

Anthony Banda worked his way into a bases-loaded, two-out jam and got out of it, throwing 25 pitches, 13 of them for strikes, in a scoreless eighth. He did pick up eight swinging and a total of five called strikes in the eventful appearance.

Carlos Estévez came on to close it for the Halos, and worked around a one-out walk to Nats’ catcher Keibert Ruiz to complete the shutout win.

BACK PAGE - Downs Up, Vargas To IL

Before last night’s game with the Angels, the Nationals announced they’d recalled infielder Jeter Downs from Triple-A Rochester and placed infielder/outfielder Ildemaro Vargas on the 10-day Injured List (retroactive to April 10) with a left shoulder strain.

Vargas injured the shoulder in Colorado, landing awkwardly while making a diving play, and the Nationals needed to place him on the IL in the end.

“He’s going to be out for a while,” manager Davey Martinez said before last night’s game.

“Just a strain of his left shoulder. Only time will tell. Those things can take two weeks. They can take a little bit longer. We’ve just got to get him back and ready.”

MLB: Washington Nationals at Colorado Rockies Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Downs, a former 1st Round pick, (by the Cincinnati Reds; selected 32nd overall in 2017), who was subsequently dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers along with both Josiah Gray and Homer Bailey in 2018, (for Kyle Farmer, Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood, and cash), then traded to Boston (in the Mookie Betts/David Price deal), before he was claimed off of waivers from the Red Sox this past December, after debuting in the majors last season.

Now he’s up again with his new manager talking about his versatility being a real asset, but pointing to his ability to play short as the main reason he was the choice with Vargas down.

“Jeter can do multiple things for us. He can play the outfield, some infield. Basically, he can play shortstop,” Martinez explained. “I think that’s the most important thing. If something happens to CJ in the mix, he can go out there and play some short. So looking forward to kind of getting him out there, but he’s a good addition to what we’re trying to do here.”

Martinez also provided an update on Luis García, the Nats’ 22-year-old infielder who injured his hamstring running out a ground ball in the second of four in Coors Field.

“He’s close. He’s very close,” Martinez said.

“We’re going to see how he does today. He’s definitely pinch-hit available today. We’ll see how it goes today, and then we might see him out there tomorrow.”

A-Pen Working?:

Patrick Corbin went five innings in the series opener with the LA Angels, then it was right-handers Mason Thompson and Hunter Harvey combining for a scoreless bottom of the sixth, with Thompson recording the first two outs before Harvey came on to strike out Mike Trout with a runner on and the Nationals up 5-4 on the home team in what ended up a 6-4 win on the road in Angel Stadium.

Harvey returned to the mound in the seventh, with a two-run lead, and struck out Shohei Ohtani, before he got a double play after a one-out walk in a scoreless frame.

Carl Edwards, Jr. handled the eighth, retiring the side in order, then Kyle Finnegan came on in the ninth, with a two-run lead, and retired the side in order to end it.

Tim Bogar, the bench coach who filled in for an ill Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez, said after the win the A-pen impressed and performed liked the club hoped they would when it was assembled.

“We want to use those three guys at the end,” Bogar explained, referring, of course, to the trio of Harvey, Edwards, Jr., and Finnegan at the back end of the bullpen.

“In the sixth inning,” he continued, “we’re usually trying to find one of the guys that can get us to the seventh inning, and I thought bringing in Thompson at that point was the right thing to do. He hit the first guy with a first pitch and it got a little interesting right there, but he did a good job. Got a ground ball, got another out, and then bringing in Harvey to match up with Trout I think was the key to the whole game right there.”

Bogar said he liked the way all the Nats’ pitchers attacked the Angels’ lineup, and especially the duo of Ohtani and Trout, who were 0 for 8 with a walk between them in the first of three games in the series.

MLB: APR 10 Nationals at Angels Photo by John Cordes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

“I think that’s just who we are,” Bogar told reporters. “That’s the guys we have in our bullpen. They’re not going to back down from anybody. We talked before the game about maybe not going after those guys in big situations, but tonight we were in the situations where we could go after them. And everybody executed pitches very well against those guys. The two best hitters in the league, you know, it’s tough to get through those guys and we got through them twice tonight.”

“I thought Corbin threw the ball well other than the first inning with the two walks,” Martinez said of the work the pitchers did in Monday’s win while he was recuperating. “[Corbin] settled down and threw the ball well, but our bullpen came in and locked them down so it was a good day.”