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Washington Nationals news & notes: Not that play again! Davey Martinez heated after Nats’ 5-4 loss to Astros...

Notes and quotes from the 2nd of 3 between the Nationals and Astros in Houston...


• It was already 4-0 Astros when Domonic Smith doubled off of Houston’s starter Framber Valdez, took third base on an Alex Call fly ball, and scored on a groundout by CJ Abrams to get the Washington Nationals on the board, down 4-1, in the fifth inning of the 2nd game of 3 this week in Minute Maid Park.

Valdez held the Nationals to the one run on five hits in seven strong, striking out six without walking anyone in a dominant 95-pitch, 61-strike outing.

• Going up against closer Ryan Pressly in the top of the ninth, with the score still 4-1, Joey Meneses reached on an error by Alex Bregman at third base, and scored on a double to right field by pinch hitter Corey Dickerson, 4-2 Astros. Dickerson scored on a second error, on a grounder back to the mound off of Ildemaro Vargas’s bat, when Pressly inexplicably tried to throw home and threw it right by the ‘Stros’ catcher, Martín Maldonado, 4-3. Dom Smith followed with an RBI triple to center which center fielder Jake Meyers dove for and ... missed, 4-4 game.

Michael Chavis came on to run for Smith at third, and Luis García pinch hit for Alex Call, and García got up 3-1 ... but grounded out to first unproductively. Two down. CJ Abrams?

Ground ball to first. Tied after eight and a half... that’s when it happened again.

Hunter Harvey tried to keep it tied in the bottom of the ninth inning, but Kyle Tucker hit a single, Jose Abreu reached on a grounder to the hole at short, when Abrams, running to second base to cover with the runner on the move off first, couldn’t make the throw to first base in time.

Tucker stole third base without a throw, and a walk to Corey Julks loaded the bases, so the Nationals went with a five-man infield, and got the result they wanted, when Jake Meyers hit one right to CJ Abrams, who threw home for out No. 2, but Keibert Ruiz’s throw to first base hit off Meyers’ helmet, as he was running inside the line, and the ball got by Michael Chavis and his outstretched glove, allowing the winning run to score. Walk off, bull—oney. Sorry for those harsh words.

Pray for Davey Martinez that he doesn’t explode after this one... in Houston ... again of all places... 5-4 Astros.

Mr. Martinez? Take it away...

“There it is, right there,” Martinez said, holding up a printed screenshot of Meyers running up the first base line, inside the line as Ruiz throws to first.

“Take a good look at it, was that on the line?” he asked rhetorically, and angrily. “I don’t think so. I’m over this play. Seriously. They need to fix the rule. If this is what the umpires see, that he’s running down the line, I’m tired of it. I’m tired of it. FIX IT! We lost the game, and he had nothing to say about it because he can’t make the right call. BRUTAL. BRUTAL.”

We added the all caps for emphasis, because ... the Nats’ skipper emphasized those words.

The full post game is well worth watching:

How did umpire Jeremy Riggs and his crew explain their call on the play?

“He said he saw him running down the line. So I said, ‘We lost the game because you made the wrong call, I guess,’” Martinez chirped.

After praising the work his club did to make a game off it in Houston, Martinez returned to the call, which, of course, brought back all the feelings about the call in the World Series in 2019...

“I can’t do nothing about those umpires, I really can’t,” Martinez told reporters. “Like I said, they need to take a look at that and understand that he screwed that play up, and that’s all I’m going to say about it, I’m done with it. If they’re not going to fix it, then we move on, and that’s it. But the boys played really good, I’m proud of the way they played. We bounced back, let’s come back tomorrow and go 1-0.”

He also said at another point in his post game, that he liked Abrams’ execution on the play though things didn’t go the Nationals’ way.

“Beautiful. Beautiful,” he said. “I brought the five-man infield in, I thought this guy will get a ground ball and they executed it perfectly.”

Gray in Minute Maid:

Josiah Gray held the Atlanta Braves to one run on two hits last week in Truist Park, but he’d walked four batters and thrown 96 pitches in five innings, so Washington’s manager Davey Martinez went to the bullpen in the sixth.

Diagnosing Gray’s struggles in the outing, Martinez noted some mechanical issues he and his staff were able to identify.

“His direction’s off a little bit,” the sixth-year skipper said.

“So his next bullpen we’re gonna sit down and work on his direction, get his head going in the right direction, and get him back in that strike zone.”

The result of the issues, Martinez explained, was Gray flying open, and struggling with his command.

“When you’re flying open like that it’s tough to command,” he said. “‘Cause all he’s doing — really his arm’s got to catch up, and he was throwing a lot of balls in the dirt. His fastball command wasn’t really there today.

“He was missing arm-side again today, and that only tells me that he’s opening up. We’ll work with him in his next bullpen and get him right.”

Gray finished his first full season in the majors in 2022 with a 5.02 ERA, 5.86 FIP, 4.00 BB/9, 9.32 K/9, 2.30 HR/9, and a .239/.324/.489 line against in 28 starts and 148 23 IP.

He went into last night’s start with a 3.00 ERA, a 4.65 FIP, 4.63 BB/9, 7.63 K/9, 1.00 HR/9, and a .237/.331/.374 line against in 13 starts and 72 IP.

A reporter asked the Nats’ skipper if Gray was getting away with command which isn’t quite there, or pitching better to limit the damage in spite of all the hitters he’s putting on base so far this year?

“I think he’s pitching better and I think he’s pitching better in situations where he needs to get out of an inning,” Martinez said. “I think he starts focusing on really getting the ball down, throwing more strikes, so we got to get him to understand the pitch count, being efficient, and that all comes with his direction as well. He flies open, he misses a lot arm-side.

“We got to get his direction right. When he does that, he’s really good. But one thing I said all along, last year we were trying to teach him to get out of high-leverage situations, keeping things under control. He’s done that a lot better this year, and I think that’s why you see the ERA down. It’s because when he gets guys on base, he kind of settles down a little bit, and he doesn’t try to rush, and he’s done really well.”

Gray missed arm-side with a one-out, 1-0 fastball, which ended up hitting Jose Altuve in the Astros’ infielder’s front hip, and one out later Kyle Tucker went down for an 0-2 slider out of the zone and hit a dribbler toward short CJ Abrams fielded but held on to. José Abreu’s two-out, two-run double on a hanging 1-2 slider drove in Altuve and Tucker to give Houston a 2-0 lead early in the second of three in Minute Maid Park.

Gray retired seven straight after Abreu’s RBI double in the first, to get through three innings on 44 pitches (31 strikes), with the score still 2-0 Astros.

Gray retired seven straight after Abreu’s RBI double in the first, to get through three innings on 44 pitches (31 strikes), with the score still 2-0 Astros, and he was up to eight, but Abreu hit a 2-1 slider low and not far enough in onto the train tracks in left (417 ft.), and Yainer Diaz followed, on an 0-1 fastball at the top of the zone with a 404 ft. shot which hit the tracks as well, 4-0.

A 6-4-3 DP in the fifth erased a two-out single, and Gray set the side down in order in a nine-pitch sixth, after which he was up to 83 pitches, and he returned to the mound in the home-half of the seventh and put three more Astros down in another nine-pitch frame.

Josiah Gray’s Line: 7.0 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 5 Ks, 2 HRs, 95 P, 66 S, 6/3 GO/FO.

Gray finished the night with 11 swinging strikes and 19 called strikes, and curiously, Baseball Savant (and MLB Gameday) had him throwing 27% sweepers in the outing — a pitch he had thrown 0.3% of the time this season (four times before last night). Was that a sweeper?

“I think it’s just a curveball, yeah,” Martinez said after the loss. “They’re going to put up there what they think.”

Mr. Gray?

What did Gray think of his own outing overall?

“In the first there, I make the pitch to Tucker, and he hits an infield single to keep the inning going, and obviously Abreu hits a double,” Gray said, “but I was throwing a lot more strikes today, no walks, no free baserunners. Other than the two home runs, I was limiting hard contact pretty well, getting pop-ups, which are outs all the time, and soft groundouts and a few strikeouts, so definitely looking at the process, and the results are the results. I’m never going to get too bent out of shape about the results anymore. I’m just sticking true to what I do and my process and next one will be a lot better.”

His manager liked the fact that Gray battled... an didn’t walk anyone.

“Look, he threw a lot more fastballs down in the zone for strikes,” Martinez said. “Man, that pitch was — if we can continue to talk to him about throwing that fastball down like that, you’re going to see more outings like that, but he’s got to use his fastball, and he threw it down today.”

BACK PAGE - Irvin’s Work:

Davey Martinez and his staff saw an opportunity with some off days on the schedule to give 26-year-old rookie Jake Irvin a break after seven turns in the big league rotation in which he showed signs of promise and clear examples of areas he needs to improve.

“He just came up,” Martinez said. “He’s pitched in the minor leagues, it’s a good time to get him a little break.”

“He’s been working on some mechanical stuff with [Pitching Coach Jim] Hickey, but it’s more rest, it’s really low-leverage stuff, and just work on mechanics.

“I think he’s done some towel drills, but we want to give him some rest and get him back ready to start again.”

Washington Nationals v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

As to why they decided now was the time to get Irvin (5.81 ERA, 5.79 FIP, .267/.386/.408 line against in 31 IP) some rest?

“We had an opportunity to do it right now,” Martinez said on Tuesday, “... without hurting the other guys, so we took advantage of it.”

The manager watched Irvin throw between outings and reported back.

“He threw 25 pitches, and we were just really honing in on his mechanics, where his head was going,” Martinez said before Wednesday’s game. “We talked a lot about his head going straight to the direction he wants to throw the ball, so he’s been working diligently on trying to throw strike one and get his stuff over. Breaking balls. He wants to land his breaking balls for strikes a lot more, so he worked on some of that too, but he looked good, and we’re going to get him back out there and I’m going to talk to Hickey probably before the game today, and see when we can schedule to get him back out there to start a game.”