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Washington Nationals news & notes: Nats drop opener with D-Backs, 3-1; Josiah Gray in April & May...

Notes and quotes from Washington’s series opener in Arizona’s Chase Field...

FRONT PAGE - Gray’s May:

Josiah Gray gave up five runs on seven hits (three of them home runs) in five innings in his first start this season.

In his next five starts, before last night’s outing in Phoenix, Arizona’s Chase Field, Gray, 25, allowed five runs total, giving up just one homer in 28 23 IP in that stretch, and posting an impressive 1.57 ERA, a 3.29 FIP, and a .219/.303/.305 line against.

“He’s been unbelievable, since Spring Training,” Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez told reporters after Gray tossed six strong against the Pirates in which he gave up just three hits and one run the last time out. “His routine, the way he’s going about his business, the way he’s mapping out the game plan, working with [Pitching Coach Jim] Hickey, every bullpen has been a lot better, and that’s just a testament to what he wants to do. And right now, he’s doing unbelievable. He’s giving us an opportunity to win, but he’s out there and pitching for the team. Which is great.”

Gray, while happy with the early returns, said it’s just one month in a long season.

“I’m happy April was a successful month,” Gray said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman after the start against the Bucs.

“But I don’t want to just call it a season because April was good. In anything, especially pitching, it’s about consistency,” Gray added.

“I’m showing myself I can be consistent over the course of a month. Now, it’s the next month. It’s May. It’s what can I do for the rest of the five months we have ahead of us?”

“I just want him to continue to build on what he’s done so far in April,” Martinez said before last night’s game.

“The biggest thing as we all know is pounding the strike zone, getting ahead of hitters early, and finishing them off early. Pitch count is a big thing for him. We always talk about three pitches or less. I really believe that he can do that, and get swings and misses, or get early contact. So the biggest thing right now is continue to pound the strike zone, when he does that he’s really effective.”

How did his first start of May go? Gray tossed 2 23 scoreless to start, as the Nationals got up 1-0 early on a Luis García homer in the first, but D-backs’ outfielder Corbin Carroll, (who signed an 8-year/$111M extension this winter), took a 1-0 fastball, just off the middle of the plate, out to left-center for a 403-foot opposite field home run which tied things up at 1-1.

The blast ended a streak of 19-straight innings without a home run allowed for Gray.

In the top of the fourth, the D-backs put runners on second and third with no one out, with Dominic Fletcher singling to start the inning, and taking third on a throwing error by Gray on line drive back to the mound by Gabriel Moreno, who took second when Gray dropped the ball, looked at second first, then threw wide of first base. Dom Smith stretched for it, and got a glove on it, but couldn’t make the catch. Geraldo Perdomo walked to load the bases, before Fletcher scored on a chopper up the middle on which no out was recorded, at least upon review of a not-so-close play at second, 2-1 AZ. Ketel Marte’s sac fly made it a two-run lead for the home team before Gray got out of the inning, a 27-pitch frame which left him at 79 pitches total. He was up to 92 after stranding a one-out double in the bottom of the fifth...

Josiah Gray’s Line: 5.0 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 6 Ks, 1 HR, 92 P, 60 S, 3/3 GO/FO.

“He was good,” Martinez said after what ended up a 3-1 loss. “He had one hiccup in the fourth inning, threw a lot of pitches, came back out in the fifth and settled down and got three outs for us, but by that time he had 92 pitches, so I thought was good enough for him today. Fourth inning, that play back at him, that set the tone for a big inning right there.”

Luis, Luis:

Luis García got up 2-0, spitting on a fastball and curve out of the zone away from D-backs’ starter Merrill Kelly, then he hit a fastball low and outside the other way for an oppo homer which put the Nationals up 1-0 early in the series opener in Chase Field.

BACK PAGE - B-pen Step-up Night:

Davey Martinez used both Hunter Harvey and Kyle Finnegan on back-to-back nights in the second and third games of the Nats’ four-game series with the Cubs in Nationals Park this past week, then he talked, after turning to the right-handers again in the series finale with Chicago about his thinking in continuing to send the back-end arms out there with the club playing a number of close games recently and taking three straight from the Cubbies after dropping the opener.

Harvey, after scoreless outings in his first two appearances in the series, (which stretched a streak to five in a row without a run allowed), struggled against the Cubs, giving up a two-run double which drove two inherited runners in, and a sac fly which tied things up at 3-3.

Finnegan gave up a walk and double in the first two at-bats of the top of the ninth, then got back-to-back Ks and a fly to right, working his way out of the jam to keep it tied before Alex Call’s walk-off home run won it in the home-half of the inning.

“I was hoping to keep one of them out,” Martinez said after the win, “... and [starter] Patrick [Corbin] was throwing the ball so good — it didn’t work out that way, but those guys — they both came up to me and said, ‘Hey, we got a chance to win the game, I’m in.’ And that’s what you want from those guys in the back end of the bullpen. And Finnegan? I can’t say enough about what he did. That was impressive. He’s the one guy that’s down in the bullpen that I always say the more we use him the better he feels.

“When he sits for a while he comes out and he’s not so sharp. Today, you could see what he could do when he’s just getting out there and being used at the right time.

“He doesn’t give in, he doesn’t quit, he understands his role, and he’s just trying to get outs.

“For me, I know Alex Call hit the big home run, but that was the moment, that was the moment right there when [Finnegan] came in and did what he did, and got those big strikeouts for us, that was huge.”

As he’d said before, recently, Martinez told reporters he knew he couldn’t keep turning to the same relievers every night, though he did in three straight games.

“We’re going to have to — perfect example tomorrow, I can’t see myself putting those two guys in there,” he explained. “I really can’t. So, [Erasmo Ramírez], [Andrés Machado], [Carl Edwards, Jr.], which CJ has been in big moments before. Mason [Thompson] has been in big moments in his young career. Those guys are going to have to step up.

“[Thaddeus] Ward, [Hobie] Harris. Those guys are going to have to step up.

“Like I said before, I want these guys in June, July, and August, so these other guys got to pitch. So we’ll see how we come out of this tomorrow, but those guys got to be ready to go.”

“We got to be very careful how much the back end of the bullpen is being used,” Martinez reiterated before last night’s game. “So like I said before, some of these other guys, they have to pitch, they have to get out there. But we’ll see how they’re doing. A couple of them already came to me and said, ‘You know, I don’t feel that bad.’ And I said, ‘Okay, just go out there and play catch and we’ll talk before the game.”

With the team trailing 3-1 once Josiah Gray was done, Martinez went with Ramírez (2.0 IP) and Harris (1.0 IP) in the series-opening loss. Is it safe to say Harvey and Finnegan weren’t available?

“They were not pitching tonight, no,” Martinez said.

Also This:

“Went 2 for 3, played nine innings in the field. He’s slowly but surely working his way back,” Davey Martinez said of the 2016 1st Round pick who had Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in the spring of 2022.

Kieboom, 25, has struggled in limited exposure in the majors thus far. He worked his way back slowly this spring, and went out on a rehab assignment which got off to a good start.

“They said he did well,” Martinez added. “I haven’t watched any videos to see if he got any balls. Hopefully he did get some balls and threw across the field, but the fact that he played nine innings only means that he felt good, because for me if things didn’t go well he could pull himself out of the game. We don’t want him to get hurt, so he did finish the game with no issues.”