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Washington Nationals news & notes: Josiah Gray out early-ish vs Tigers; Nats score early; hold on for 6-4 win...

Notes and quotes from the Nationals’ series finale with the Tigers in D.C.

Josiah Gray vs the Tigers:

Josiah Gray gave up five earned runs in five innings in his first start of the 2023 campaign on April 1st, but in eight starts heading into Sunday afternoon’s series finale with Detroit’s Tigers the 25-year-old right-hander had posted a 2.08 ERA, 3.51 FIP, 20 walks, 41 Ks, and a .235/.315/.330 line against in 47 23 innings pitched.

His manager, Davey Martinez, talked before Gray’s outing against Miami’s Marlins last week, in which he held Fish hitters to two runs, one earned, on seven hits and three walks, about the run the righty has been on and what’s been working for him so far in 2023.

“For me it’s more about the strikes, throwing strikes,” Martinez said, “getting ahead of hitters today, that’s the important thing. He’s got a good mix of pitches, we know that. His cutter has done well, his slider’s really good. He threw a couple changeups last outing, which was awesome, but yeah, he’s got to establish the strike zone early, and often, and get them off the secondary pitches.”

Once Gray was done with the seven-inning, 104-pitch outing, Martinez talked about what’s behind the success he’s had through the first two months.

“He’s throwing the ball really well,” Martinez said. “He’s got an unbelievable game plan and routine. And he’s done really well. He wants the ball, he wants to pitch deep into games and you can see that once again tonight.

“We let him go out there, we let him get out of some jams. He was good. I think he’s learned in these high-leverage situations to control the heartbeat and get through it.”

Gray talked in his own post game scrum about his ability to get outs even when he doesn’t have his best stuff.

“I definitely had to grind through it,” Gray said after the start in loanDepot park, as quoted by MASN’s Bobby Blanco. “I know I didn’t have my best stuff tonight. I just wanted to work with the defense a little bit more tonight.

“So getting some ground balls, getting some early contacts allowed me to get through seven innings.

“But I didn’t have my best stuff tonight, so being able to get through seven is a positive night.”

Even without his best stuff, Gray generated 11 swinging and 12 called strikes in the start.

Gray generated just seven swinging strikes against the Tigers on Sunday, though he did get 14 called strikes in the outing, an 88-pitch, five-inning turn in the rotation with three hits, six walks, two strikeouts, and just one run allowed in the end.

“The six walks definitely is a bummer,” Gray said after the game, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman, though he got six runs of support when he was on the mound, in a 6-4 win for the starter and his club.

“And I felt really good pregame, in the bullpen, before the game,” the 25-year-old continued, “then I got out there and things just didn’t go the way I wanted to. Hats off to the offense for putting up six runs in the first three innings, because if this is a tight game, I think it could have gotten ugly.

“It wasn’t what I wanted to do today, but I made the big pitch and only gave up one today.”

“He wasn’t very sharp,” Martinez said. “His cutter wasn’t as good as it was. What I did like about him: He comes out in that fifth inning, and he was a lot better. His mechanics were better, he was staying closed, his head was in a good position, and he threw the ball — velo was up in that inning. But for me, he’s been pitching well, six, seven, today was a shorter day for him, I wanted to get him out of there. He had five innings, 87-88 pitches, and I told [Pitching Coach Jim] Hickey, ‘That’s enough.’ This will be his day where we shorten it up a little bit for him, but he battled.”

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Martinez’s hitters battled too, with some of the usual suspects (Jeimer Candelario - 4 for 5; Joey Meneses - 3 for 5) and some other contributors (Ildemaro Vargas 2 for 4, HR; and the Nats’ backup catcher Riley Adams - 4 for 4, 2 doubles, 2-run HR) putting up a combined 18 hits and the six runs.

Luis García (for a second straight game), CJ Abrams, and catcher Keibert Ruiz all got a day off on Sunday, with an off day on Monday giving them an extended break, and their bench players came through with the win as the Nationals took 2 of 3 from the Tigers in D.C.

With the home team up 6-1 in the sixth, things got dicey, with Andrés Machado giving up a solo home run by Nick Maton, a walk to Akil Baddoo, a single by Matt Vierling, and then an RBI single by Zach McKinstry before Martinez went to Kyle Finnegan (in the 6th), to get two outs around a two-out walk.

Finnegan gave up a run in the seventh, when he came back out for more work, 6-4, but the Nats got a scoreless eighth from Carl Edwards, Jr., and a 1-2-3 frame from Hunter Harvey in the ninth to lock down the win.