Gray vs the Metsies:
It’s hard to argue with the results. But Davey Martinez had some ideas about process.
Talking with reporters before Sunday’s series finale with the Twins, on the road in Target Field, the sixth-year skipper discussed what he’d seen from starter Josiah Gray early this year, and what he’d like to see the 25-year-old starter do differently going forward, as he builds on his early success (3.74 ERA, 5.77 FIP, 9 BB, 16 Ks, 4 HRs, .281/.362/.476 BAA).
According to Baseball Savant’s data, Gray had thrown significantly fewer four-seam fastballs early this season, after opposing hitters hit .305 on the pitch, and hit 24 of the MLB-high 38 HRs Gray gave up overall in ‘22 off his fastball.
Gray threw it 39.2% of the time in his first full season in the majors, but so far in 2023, that was down to 26.2% through four starts, with his slider usage up a bit (29.5% to 32.8%), and the cutter he added this winter a weapon he’d leaned on (15.6% of the time), while going with just about the same amount of curveballs (24.1% in 2023, 24.8% last year).
Josiah Gray's 3Ks in the 3rd. pic.twitter.com/Djd0KRqLMo— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 26, 2023
“For me it’s all about his location with the fastball,” Martinez said when asked if he wanted to see Gray throw his heater more often.
“When he’s throwing the ball down he’s got a lot more movement than when he throws the ball up. And he’s got to pitch in. We talk a lot about using his fastball in as well as throwing the ball down. But he did a lot better. My big thing with him, as we all talked about, is he learned to throw a cutter. I don’t want him to rely on just throwing cutters, I want him to honestly use his fastball a little bit more, cutters on occasion. His slider is a great pitch.
“But understand that he has to pitch with his fastball.”
Gray struck out seven of the first 14 batters he faced, reaching a season-high in Ks in four scoreless innings, but a one-out double and two-out single and walk in the fifth loaded the bases in front of Starling Marte (0 for 2, 1 K), who went from 0-2 to 3-2, but K’d swinging at Gray’s cutter down and away which dropped out of the zone, under Marte’s bat for K No. 9.
Josiah Gray's 8th and 9th Ks. pic.twitter.com/A1QF750BoA— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 26, 2023
Gray was up to 81 pitches after five, with 20 swinging strikes, seven with his fastball, 11 with his slider, and 13 called strikes, eight with his four-seamer, and four with his curve.
Through five, the righty threw 42% four-seamers, 29% sliders, 18% curves, and 11% cutters, and he came back out for the bottom of the sixth, and retired the side in order in a quick, 10-pitch frame which left him at 91 pitches overall.
Josiah Gray’s Line: 6.0 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 9 Ks, 91 P, 60 S, 1/4 GO/FO.
“He really attacked with his fastball down,” Martinez said after what ended up a 5-0 win in the series opener. “I think he surprised them a lot just throwing his fastball down for strikes. I mean, threw a lot of first-pitch strikes and then he used his cutter and slider from that. I think honestly the key for him is the fastball. We talk about it all the time: Fastball in the strike zone, keeping it down, everything else works for him. So what a great, great day, man. High-leverage situation, struck out a really good hitter in Marte, that was awesome. We thought about sending him back out, but the inning got long, he had 91 pitches, so I thought the right thing to do was get him out on a high note.”
Gray was asked after the game what had been working for him on the mound in New York.
“Everything, honestly,” Gray said. “Just going with the game plan early on. Just seeing how they were adjusting to my stuff, how they were swinging the bat, how they were taking pitches, and just a lot of good opportunities early to just throw strike one. So the more we did that, the more we kind of just commanded the zone and were able to utilize that. So just doing a lot of strikes early and having the putaway pitches — that led to a lot of success today.”
Keibert Ruiz got up 2-0 on 25-year-old Mets’ starter José Butto, and hit the next pitch out to center field in Citi Field (414 ft. for the first run of the series opener in Flushing, Queens, NY for either team, putting the visiting Washington Nationals up 1-0 in the top of the second. It would have/could have been a two-run shot if Joey Meneses hadn’t been thrown out trying to stretch a low liner off third baseman Brett Baty’s glove into a double, only to get tagged out at second base when Baty recovered the ball quickly.
Luis García grounded into a force at second after a one-out walk by Alex Call in the top of the third, then Jeimer Candelario took the second walk of the inning and third free pass of the game by the Mets’ starter, before Meneses lined an RBI single to center field on an 0-1 fastball to drive García in from second for a 2-0 lead.
García hit a backdoor 3-2 sweeper from reliever Jimmy Yacabonis to the base of the wall in right-center for a two-out, two-run double in the sixth inning, driving in both Victor Robles and Alex Call after back-to-back, one-out hits by the pair, 4-0. Double No. 2 of 2023 for the Nats’ second baseman. García scored on an RBI single by Meneses (3 for 4, 2 RBIs), 5-0.
“Playing here in New York, it’s tough, a tough place to play. So when you can go out and get an early lead, I think it eases everybody. But game was not over,” manager Davey Martinez said after the game.
“We got to continue to play, and they did that tonight. Keibert had a great swing today, and he’s been swinging the bat really well, so it was good to see him hit the ball in the middle of the field and drive the ball like that.”
Mason Thompson threw his heavy sinker 72.8% of the time in 24 2⁄3 IP in the majors in 2022, mixing in 23.9% sliders, with less than 2% four-seam fastballs and changeups.
In his first 15 2⁄3 IP this season, before Tuesday’ game, the 25-year-old reliever’s sinker usage was down a bit, to 62.6% sinkers, with 27.4% sliders, 5.8% four-seamers, and 4.2% curves.
Opposing hitters didn’t hit either of his top two pitches much last year (with a .233 AVG vs his sinker, and a .133 AVG on his slider), and they are not hitting either much early this year, with Thompson holding batters to a .226 AVG on his sinker, and a .133 AVG on his slider.
“His stuff is so good. It really is,” manager Davey Martinez beamed last weekend, when asked about his reliever’s early-season success, and the importance of strike one for Thompson.
“They broke down my numbers and said: ‘When you get ahead, you’re basically unhittable,’” Thompson said this past Sunday, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.
“That was the main focus this offseason, just pounding the zone. For me, it’s produced a good result.”
“He’s got a lot of movement on his fastball,” Martinez added, “... and once he gets ahead, once he can get ahead and get that strike one, it will relax him a little bit better instead of trying to make that nasty pitch, and try to get guys out chasing sliders and stuff like that. Strike one for him is the key, and also with him we talk about the 1-1 counts, trying to win the 1-1 counts, and this year he’s been really good at that. So, for all these guys, and especially for Mason, I want him to pound the strike zone. Don’t be afraid of throwing the ball over the white. Make the guys hit it. His ball is tough to hit. He throws a heavy ball. So he’s been really successful in doing that.”
Thompson struck out two, one swinging then one looking, in a 1-2-3 seventh inning, taking over for Josiah Gray and keeping it a 5-0 game in Citi Field. He returned to the mound and added two Ks in a 1-2-3 eighth, completing two scoreless on 23 pitches, 18 strikes.
Martinez sent him back out for the ninth, and Thompson started a 1-4-3 DP on a Pete Alonso comebacker, after giving a leadoff single, then a groundout to second ended the game.
The Nats’ skipper said after the game, with the schedule coming up in mind, it was really a big outing for Thompson and the team.
“Huge,” he said.
“I mean, we got 16-straight games coming up. So to give the bullpen a little rest and for him to do what he does, that’s kind of old school.
“When I played we had the three-inning saves from a lot of relievers. Watching Mason do what he does, it was awesome.”
BACK PAGE - DOOOOOING THINGS:
Sean Doolittle took another step in his recovery from left elbow surgery when he threw a live BP Tuesday in West Palm Beach. Doolittle, 36, had an internal brace procedure on his elbow last summer, instead of Tommy John surgery, and he’s working his way back slowly but making progress.
“Doolittle actually threw a live BP,” Davey Martinez told reporters before last night’s series opener in Citi Field.
“I’m still waiting on the results now, but the gist of it is that he felt really good. And so I want to see what the velo is and how many pitches he threw. I haven’t got it yet.”
Going in, Martinez said, they were hoping to get Doolittle up to around 20 pitches.
“I haven’t seen the results yet,” he reiterated. “But from what I heard, he said he felt really good afterwards.”
As he explained, it’s still too early to start thinking or talking about timetables for when/if the lefty might be able to return to the majors.
“My focus is about today and getting him through today. And the big thing is going to be seeing how he feels tomorrow. So I’ll get an update on what he did and then how he feels tomorrow,” Martinez said, but he did say it’s a bit off in the future.
“Basically, where we’re at right now is the start of Spring Training with him,” he added.
“So he’s going to have to throw, get a couple of live BPs and then we’ll see how he does from there.
“But he’s gonna have to pitch, we’re gonna have to get him back-to-back days. So we still got some time.”