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Washington Nationals news & notes: Josiah Gray impresses; Nats’ offensive comes up empty...

Notes and quotes from the Nationals’ series opener with the Rockies in Coors Field...

FRONT PAGE - Gray in Coors:

Josiah Gray finished up Grapefruit League action with a 0.55 ERA in five starts and 16 13 innings pitched, over which he’d held opposing hitters to a .210 AVG, walking two, and striking out 14 in an impressive spring for the 25-year-old starter.

Gray, who finished 2022, his first full season in the big leagues, with a 5.02 ERA, 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 2⁄3 IP, managed to make it through the spring without giving up a home run, but four pitches into the 2023 campaign, he’d given up two, with the first two batters he faced taking him deep to start the second game of the opening series.

The Nationals’ 25-year-old starter gave up a third home run later in the outing, and gave up a total of seven hits and five earned runs overall in what ended up a 7-1 loss to the Nats’ NL East rivals from Atlanta.

How did Gray react to the tough outing out of the gate this season?

“He was good. He was great. He was fine,” manager Davey Martinez said.

“He talked to [catcher] Keibert [Ruiz]. [Pitching coach Jim Hickey] went down and talked to him a little bit, and kind of settled in a little bit, and like I said, he started making better pitches. He got behind a little bit, but he worked out of some tough situations, which is good.”

“Just a matter of poor location there early in the game,” Gray said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman, when asked about his struggles. “I’ve just got to be better there.”

Start No. 2 for Gray? His manager talked before the series opener in Colorado’s Coors Field about what he wanted to see from the righty this time out.

“Attack the strike zone,” Martinez said. “Be more efficient. Get ahead of hitters. But like I’ve said, his stuff is electric. When he’s ahead he’s really good. Got to keep the ball down here, you know where we’re at.”

Gray cruised through four scoreless on 67 pitches, but Lane Thomas lost a liner to right in the sun in the first at-bat of the Rockies’ fifth, gifting Ezequiel Tovar a leadoff double, then Kris Bryant brought the first run of the game for either team in with a soft liner to left field for an RBI single and a 1-0 lead.

Gray was up to 86 pitches after five with just the one run allowed, with 18 swinging strikes, 11 of them on his slider, and he worked around leadoff and one-out singles, stranding both runners in a 16-pitch sixth which left him at 102 pitches total, still 1-0 Rockies.

Josiah Gray’s Line: 6.0 IP, 8 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 Ks, 102 P, 64 S, 6/5 GO/FO.

Strike zone image via

He finished his outing with 19 swinging strikes on the day, 11 with his slider, and he got 12 called strikes (3 on slider, 5 on 4-seam, 4 on his curve) overall.

The one run the Rockies scored on Gray was enough as the home team cruised to a 1-0 win in the home opener in Coors Field.

Gray threw 42% sliders in his second start, up from 30% in his initial outing of the season, sticking with it because it was much better than it was against the Braves. What was the difference?

“Just locating it a lot better,” Gray told reporters when he spoke after the game. “Not trying to be too fine with it. Just trying to know that when I get it to the spot, I want to get it to the area at least, it will have good results.”

“So just trusting it,” he added, “... a lot of work in the bullpen a few days ago so just trusting it and throwing it a lot of times.”

“He was awesome,” Martinez said in his own post game press conference.

“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.”

He threw his fastball 25% of the time in the outing, up from 16%, and got three swinging and five called strikes with the pitch.

“For the most part, he threw the slider down, which is what you want to do here,” Martinez added. “Not leave it up.”

“But then when he needed his fastball he threw some good fastballs, so he had a great day today.”

BACK PAGE - No Offense, But...:

Davey Martinez’s ballclub started the four-game series in Coors Field with the second-least runs scored in the NL early this season (17 in six games), the lowest home run total (2), and their .233 AVG as a team was 11th of 15 National League teams. Their OBP (.312) was middle of the pack (8th), their SLG (.306) was 15th, wRC+ (71) was tied for 13th, and their -0.4 fWAR was 14th of 15. So, yeah, not a great start for the Nats’ offense in 2023.

“We’re going to get better,” Martinez assured reporters after completing a 1-5 homestand to start the 2023 campaign. “There’s no doubt about that, and there is a lot of baseball left, so I’m not going to put any onus on — of course I want to win every day, believe me — but I’m not going to put any onus on the first week of the season, I’m not. But we got to get better, we got to get better quick if we want to compete here. We got to play together as a team, and get better.

“I mean, just play good team baseball, and that will happen. We get to go on the road now, get on a plane, and go face Colorado in their home opener, and just try to win tomorrow.”

Washington Nationals v Colorado Rockies Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Going into the seventh game of the season, in hitter-friendly Coors Field, Martinez talked to reporters about the potential for the mile-high air in the Rockies’ home to help to get things going on the offensive end.

“It definitely will help a little bit being that we’re coming to Colorado,” he said. “I know it’s early in the season, but we’re still in Colorado. But you know, from what I’ve seen over the last six games, we’re not slugging, we’re not driving in the runs we should, but we’re putting the ball in play, we’re mixing in our walks which is good for the young team we have. Our guys are starting to understand to swing at strikes. I think the hitting will come, now it’s just a matter of them relaxing a little bit and not trying to do too much with guys on base.”

Struggling with guys on base was not the issue in the first of four with the Rockies.

Lefty Kyle Freeland held Nats’ hitters to four hits total, in 6 23 strong, walking two, striking out five, and keeping the visitors from putting a runner in scoring position while he was in the game.

CJ Abrams and Jeimer Candelario singled off Rockies’ righty Justin Lawrence in the top of the eighth, Abrams to lead off the inning, and Candelario with one out, but both ended up stranded and the home team took their 1-0 lead into the ninth, where Pierce Johnson’s got two Ks in a 1-2-3 frame to end the game.

“I think they’re pressing a little bit, trying too much, so just got to relax a little bit and just make good, solid contact and see what happens,” Martinez said, after the sixth loss in the first seven games this season.

“We got to keep swinging the bat but we got to get the balls in the strike zone,” Martinez continued. “... and don’t miss, right?”