FRONT PAGE - Gray vs the O’s in D.C.:
Josiah Gray held the Los Angeles Angels to one run on two hits through five innings on the road in Anaheim, CA, but faded quickly in the sixth, giving up a leadoff home run, single, and back-to-back, two-out walks, (on eight consecutive pitches), before he was lifted with the bases loaded in the home-half of the inning.
Gray took the L, in what ended up a 2-0 loss, though overall it was a fairly strong start by the 25-year-old righty.
“It stings,” he said after falling to (0-3) in his first three outings early this season. “It’s always going to sting to get an L and have your name attached to it, but I know I’m going out there, doing my job keeping the team in the game. I’m just making it simpler on myself. I’m seeing the results I want to see.”
His manager said he liked what he’d seen from the starter so far in the 2023 season as well.
“He’s definitely been a lot better this year,” Davey Martinez said after the loss to the Angels.
“We worked a lot this winter,” Martinez continued, “... we’ve been diligent with him about keeping the ball down, utilizing his pitches, he developed a cutter, so he’s done really well. So, he’s definitely going to be a force to be reckoned with in the future. He’s young, but he understands what he needs to do.”
Gray got off to a good start against the Orioles in the first of two with Baltimore in D.C. last night, with three scoreless innings on 54 pitches, but a leadoff single, a one-out walk, and RBI single in the top of the fourth got the visiting team on the board, 1-0, with the 13-pitch frame pushing the Nationals’ starter up to 67 overall.
A leadoff double to left (by Jorge Mateo) and a walk (to Ryan O’Hearn) in the first two plate appearances in the sixth had Gray up to 75 pitches, and he got a visit from pitching coach Jim Hickey, before going to a full count with the next batter, Cedric Mullins, and striking him out on a 3-2 curve in the dirt. Adley Rutschman sent a fly to left in the next at-bat for out No. 2. Gray fell behind 3-0 on Ryan Mountcastle, got a generous call for strike one, 3-1, and got a groundout to third for out No. 3 on the next pitch. Still 1-0 O’s.
Josiah Gray, Wicked 83mph Curveball...and Sword. ⚔️ pic.twitter.com/tRCQSUjA9U— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 19, 2023
Gray took the mound at 89 pitches in the sixth, and he was at 98 after a leadoff walk to O’s outfielder, Anthony Santander, which ended his outing...
Josiah Gray’s Line: 5.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 4 BB, 3 Ks, 98 P, 58 S, 6/3 GO/FO.
Gray racked up eight swinging strikes, four with his slider, and 18 called strikes, seven on his slider, five on his curve, throwing predominantly breaking balls (48% sliders, 22% curveballs, 13% sinkers, 13% four-seamers, and 3% cutters*, according to Baseball Savant), in keeping, if a little bit high in terms of sliders, with what he’s done early this season (as he’s thrown way fewer fastballs this season, 18.2% down from 39.2% in 2022).
The real tough part? With a 1-0 loss, Gray fell to (0-4) on the season, in four starts, in which he hasn’t received one run of support, with shutout losses in each of his last three turns in the rotation.
“I know we’re going to break through here soon,” Gray said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.
“I’m just going out there thinking about the team and trying to put up zeroes as much as I can and giving us an opportunity to win ballgames.”
“He’s been really good,” Martinez said after the game. “He understands that he’s giving us an opportunity to win some ballgames, and he’s keeping us right there.
“I told him: ‘Hang in there. We’ll score some runs for you.’ But he’s pitching really well.”
While he faltered late again, Martinez said he was happy with Gray’s outing overall.
“He started off by getting ahead of all the hitters,” the skipper said. “Then he made pitches when he needed to, which was awesome. Towards the end there, he started getting the ball up a little bit. The sixth inning, we were just going to go batter-by-batter with him, and see where he goes, but he started getting the ball up a little bit. He had a long at-bat against Santander. I thought that was the right time to take him out.”
[ed. note - “ * = There is some discrepancy as to Gray’s pitch selection, with his manager telling reporters after the game he thought some of the pitches counted as sliders were actually cutters.
“I’m not so sure that some of those ones that were called sliders were not cutters. They were a little harder than normal, so we’ll have to go back and look at those as well, but I thought he used if fairly well today.”]
It was 0-0 after two and a half in the first of two with the O’s in D.C., when CJ Abrams lined a leadoff single to center field, and Victor Robles reached on a throwing error by Orioles’ third baseman Gunnar Henderson, with both runners advancing into scoring position on the E:5, but Baltimore’s starter, right-hander Dean Kremer, struck the next three Nationals out, Lane Thomas looking, and Dominic Smith and Joey Meneses swinging, to keep it scoreless in the nation’s capital.
“We got the top of the order up and then we just missed fastballs. We were swinging right through the fastballs,” Martinez said of the big spot in the 1-0 loss.
“I would take my chances again with those guys up there with second and third and no outs like that. One, we got to get the ball in the zone, and two, we got to be ready to drive those runs in.
“We talk a lot about getting on the fastball, staying in the middle of the field, today we just missed them.”
The O’s went up 1-0 in the fourth, and Kremer kept it there through six innings, giving up just three hits, while striking out six. A two-out single by Stone Garrett in the Nats’ half of the seventh ended the Orioles’ starter’s night...
Mason Thompson took over for Gray in the sixth, and tossed a scoreless frame before he came back out for the seventh as well, holding the O’s off the board in a second straight inning.
Carl Edwards, Jr. worked around a leadoff walk in the top of the eighth.
Erasmo Ramírez struck out two in a 1-2-3 top of the ninth.
The Orioles’ bullpen completed a combined shutout, with Danny Coulombe, Yennier Cano, and Felix Bautista following Kremer on the mound in a 1-0 win.
BACK PAGE - Ruiz Locked In:
Keibert Ruiz wrapped up Washington’s seven-game road trip to Denver, CO and Anaheim, CA 4 for 24 (.167/.259/.208) with a double, three walks, and two Ks in six games, after the No. 1 catcher in the nation’s capital went 5 for 17 (.294/.400/.529) with a double, homer, a couple walks, and four Ks in five games on the six-game, season-opening homestand.
Back home in D.C. this past weekend, Ruiz started in all three games with Cleveland, going 4 for 12 (.333/.333/.417) with a double in the series, after which his manager was asked for his take on what he’s seen from the backstop when things are going well for him in front of the plate.
“He’s on time to hit the fastball,” Martinez explained. “You saw that yesterday. He was very quiet, his legs were slowed down a little bit. And when he does that, his hands work really well. So we’ve got to keep him there. He’s swinging the bat really well right now.”
And what do they tell him to keep him where he’s at when things are working?
“Just making sure that he understands to be ready for the fastball and be on time,” Martinez said.
Ruiz went 0 for 4 in the loss to the Orioles.
Will Jeter Downs Get In A Game?:
Jeter Downs, a 2017 1st Round pick by Cincinnati’s Reds, who was traded to LA’s Dodgers (along with Josiah Gray) in 2018, and then dealt to Boston’s Red Sox in 2020, debuted for the Sox in 2022, so he’s already gotten a taste of major league action, and the fact that he has been up since April 11th but has not yet gotten into a game is not as painful as it could be. It’s still likely not a lot of fun to be watching for a week.
“Eventually I would like to get him in the game,” Davey Martinez told reporters three days after the 24-year-old infielder, who was selected off waivers by the Nationals this winter, came up in the aftermath of Ildemaro Vargas’s shoulder injury.
“We just got Luis [García] back,” Martinez said, in explaining why Downs hadn’t yet been in the lineup, “and he’s going to play, but with that being said, it was a hamstring issue [with García], so we want to be very cautious.
“So there might be a day or two where I have to give him a day off and if I do so, I might put Jeter in there.”
Going into last night’s game with the Orioles, however, the opportunity had not yet arisen for the infielder (who plays second, third, and short).
“It’s very tricky,” Martinez acknowledged. “Unfortunately the guy in front of him [CJ Abrams] is a very young, young guy as well, and he’s got to play every day and he’s playing well. So I talk to [Downs] and try to tell him to stay ready because you never know in this game, but I feel like he is a guy that probably needs to go play every day, and if something does happen he’s ready to go. He’s got a lot of upside. That’s why we like him, but he’s just got to hang in there for now, and wait his turn. And learn. I told him, I said, ‘Hey, you’ve got an opportunity to come here and work and he’s been working really hard in the cage to flatten his swing out a little bit. He’s working with [coaches Gary DiSarcina, Tim Bogar, and Ricky Bones] on his defense, taking ground balls everywhere, so it’s good that we have him here and we’re able to work with him.”
Is Vargas ready to return? Getting closer?
“Vargas, he hit today, soft-toss from both sides,” Martinez said.
“He actually said he felt really good, so that’s encouraging. So, the next step will be to get him on the field, and hit in the field, get him to start fielding some ground balls, and we’ll see how long that takes.”
Vargas injured his shoulder on a diving play in the field in Coors Field, and has been on the IL since, and the Nationals are taking a cautious approach with his rehab.
“We want to make sure we’re cautious just strength-wise,” Martinez told reporters, “so he’s doing all the strengthening. He feels good. Like I said, today I watched him hit in the cage, he did some soft-toss, some tee-work, soft toss. He swung the bat well. Cut him off at a certain amount of swings, so we’ll build from that. The range of motion thing, fielding, I think will be the key to getting him back.”