clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Washington Nationals news & notes: Josiah Gray leads Nats to sweep-avoiding 7-2 win over Pirates...

Notes and quotes from this weekend’s three-game set with the Pirates in Nationals Park...

Gray’s SunDay:

Talking after Josiah Gray tossed six scoreless against the New York Mets, striking out nine of the 23 batters he faced in Citi Field, Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez told reporters he saw Gray’s fastball as the key to his success in the outing.

Gray leaned on his breaking pitches in his first four starts this season, with his fastball usage down significantly from 2022 percentages, but he established it early in NY, and worked off the pitch opposing hitters did the most damage on in ‘22 (.305 AVG, 24 of a league-high 38 HRs allowed).

“He really attacked with his fastball down,” Martinez said.

“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.”

Pittsburgh Pirates v Washington Nationals Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

When he’s able to locate it, of course.

“We talk about it all the time: Fastball in the strike zone, keeping it down, everything else works for him.”

Gray gave up five earned runs in five innings, with three home runs allowed in his debut this season, but in four starts heading into this afternoon’s outing, the 25-year-old righty put up a 1.59 ERA, 3.41 FIP, eight walks, 21 Ks, and a .238/.316/.333 line against in 22 23 IP, in which he gave up just one home run.

With two scoreless to start on Sunday, and a 5-0 lead when he returned to the mound in the third, Gray tried to keep the momentum going, but lost his command for a stretch, with the Bucs’ Ji Hwan Bae singling to start the inning, stealing second, and scoring on a two-out RBI single by Bryan Reynolds, 5-1. A two-out walk earned Gray a mound visit, and after a second free pass loaded the bases the Nats’ starter got a grounder to first to end the threat.

Gray was up to 66 pitches after three, not ideal, but he retired the side in order in a 15-pitch fourth, worked around a two-out double in an eight-pitch fifth, and wrapped things up with a 16-pitch sixth, striking out the final two batters for six Ks total on 105 pitches overall.

Josiah Gray’s Line: 6.0 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 6 Ks, 105 P, 63 S, 5/5 GO/FO.

Gray generated 13 swinging strikes, seven on his slider, which he threw 37% of the time, five on his four-seamer (33%), and one on his curve (18%), and he picked up 18 called strikes the righty spread out over the four pitches he threw.

“He started off throwing a lot of breaking balls,” Martinez said after what ended up a sweep-avoiding 7-2 win for the home team, “and then he kind of regrouped after that third inning and attacked with his fastball. That’s what I love. He went back out there and started utilizing his fastball a lot better. He was ahead of 11 hitters, only one guy got on base, that was awesome. But like I said, he’s understanding who he is and what he wants to do, and the fact that he could go out there and say, ‘Okay, I got to make some adjustments,’ was awesome today.”

“For a while there, I thought if he gets 4+ innings,” Martinez added, “... because his pitch count was high, but he settled down and he started pumping strikes, throwing fastballs, and he gave us six strong innings, which was awesome.”

Rainouts = Momentum Killer?:

The momentum built up in the club’s back-to-back series wins on the road trip to Minnesota and New York (NL), was stalled somewhat when the series opener against Pittsburgh was postponed by rain on Friday, and the Nationals dropped both ends of their doubleheader at home with the Pirates on Saturday, leaving Washington 2-11 in the nation’s capital this year.

“We definitely would’ve much rather played yesterday,” Martinez said before their back-to-back losses to the Bucs.

“The morale’s good, we’re upbeat, we’re playing well. Playing yesterday would’ve been good.”

Overall, his ballclub’s .246 AVG as a club was middle of the pack, 14th in the majors as of Sunday morning, their .315 OBP was 20th, and their .344 SLG was tied for 28th among major league teams. Their 15 home runs were 30th of 30, a full 42 behind Tampa Bay’s league-leading 57, and their 97 runs scored on the season were 28th. With runners in scoring position?

Their .253 AVG with RISP was ranked 12th, with their .317 OBP 24th, and .330 SLG was 28th.

Martinez, after a 6-3 loss on Saturday afternoon in which his club went 2 for 13 with runners in scoring position and five left on base, said they really need to get that one big, “... hit with guys on base. That’s what it really boils down to.

“Keep swinging the bats. We had I think eight or nine hits today, but we needed that one big hit, we just didn’t get it this first game.”

They went 1 for 3 with eight left on base in a 16-1 loss in the nightcap.

“We hit some balls hard, but we couldn’t string any hits together. That was kind of it. We got to come back tomorrow, and win tomorrow,” Martinez added after their second consecutive loss.

Pittsburgh Pirates v Washington Nationals Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Other than today, we’ve been playing fairly well, so let’s get back to going 1-0, and come back tomorrow and play to win tomorrow.”

“We’ve got to put today behind us and come back tomorrow and play good baseball.”

They got off to a good start in the series finale, with back-to-back-to-back, two-out hits off Pirates’ starter Johan Oviedo, with singles by Keibert Ruiz and Joey Meneses, and a two-run double by Jeimer Candelario, whose 6th two-base hit this season made it 2-0 Nationals after one.

Lane Thomas walked to start the second, and took third on a one-out hit by Victor Robles, then Luis García made it two, two-out, two-run hits in two innings with single to right, 4-0, and 5-0 on a two-out RBI single by Meneses.

Dom Smith singled to start the Nats’ third, and CJ Abrams doubled to right with one out, setting up another RBI opportunity, which Victor Robles cashed in with a two-run double out to left field, 7-1. That was it for Oviedo...

“We were being a little more aggressive,” the skipper said of what was going right at the plate.

“Hitting strikes, something that when we’re good we’re really good at. Pittsburgh, they pound the zone, so we had to be ready.

“We walked a little bit today, which we didn’t do the last couple days, last couple games, but the at-bats were nice, they were crisp this game, and we had some good swings.”

BACK PAGE - Roster Moves:

Before the third game in two days with the Pirates yesterday, the Nationals announced they made a move in the bullpen:

“The Washington Nationals selected the contract of right-handed pitcher Andrés Machado from Triple-A Rochester and designated left-handed pitcher Anthony Banda for assignment on Sunday. Nationals’ President of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo made the announcement.”

Banda, 29, signed with the Nationals this winter, and he made the Opening Day roster as the only lefty in the bullpen, but in 10 games and seven innings pitched, he put up a 6.43 ERA, a 6.08 FIP, five walks, six Ks, and a .321/.429/.429 line against before he was DFA’d on Sunday.

Machado, 30, put up a 2.92 ERA, a 1.53 FIP, 2.19 BB/9, and 11.68 K/9 (16 Ks in 12 13 IP) at AAA, and got another opportunity, after he posted a 3.34 ERA, 4.51 FIP, 3.94 BB/9, and 6.98 K/9 in 59 13 IP for the Nationals in 2022.

He was dropped from the 40-man roster this winter, but he returned to the organization and went to the top minor league affiliate after a strong spring and worked his way back.

“Even throughout Spring Training he could have been bitter about what happened,” Davey Martinez said after the moves were announced. “He came in and I had long conversations with him and he said, ‘I’m going to work my way back, and you’ll see me.’ And I said, ‘I don’t have any doubt that we’ll see you again. Just keep working hard.’ And he went down there and worked hard, heard nothing but good things about the way he was handling himself down there, so like I said, he’s back and he’s going to get an opportunity to pitch.”

Having to DFA Banda (or any pitcher/player) is never easy, of course.

“It’s always tough when you have to designate somebody,” Martinez told reporters. “But we felt like we needed somebody that can give us some length, given the doubleheader and where we’re at pitching-wise. So we had to let go of Banda, and we thought Machado would be that guy.

New York Mets v Washington Nationals Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

“He’s been pitching well down at Triple-A, I know he can give us multiple innings, so it gives us a little bit more in our bullpen.”

Martinez said he was not worried about the fact his club now has no lefties in the ‘pen.

“We need guys that can get outs right now,” he explained.

“In a perfect world, having a couple lefties would be great. But we’ve got guys down there that are capable of getting lefties out. I think Machado is one of them.

“He’s done well down there at Triple-A. Last year at the end of the year he pitched really well for us, so he’s going to get an opportunity today. And then [Carl Edwards, Jr.] has done well against lefties as well, and with [Hunter] Harvey and those guys I think we’re covered.”

Machado ended up giving the Nationals two scoreless, allowing just one hit and striking out one batter in a 29-pitch, 20-strike outing.

“Machado being Machado, right?” Martinez said when asked to assess the reliever’s outing.

“He came in — the big thing with him is we always tell him, ‘Hey, you got to throw strikes. You got to throw strike one and put hitters away,’ and he came in, he pounded the zone. He’s got a good mix of pitches, but the biggest thing with him is coming in and throwing strikes. When he can do that — his stuff is good. He threw some good changeups, really live fastball, and a couple good sliders. So he gave us the two innings that we really needed, because our bullpen was a little short.”