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Washington Nationals news & notes: Nats drop 4th straight; Josiah Gray struggles, gives up two homers in 8-6 loss to Cards

Notes and quotes from the Nationals’ 8-6 loss to the Cards in last night’s series opener with St. Louis...

Josiah Gray gave up three home runs in five innings in his 2023 debut, a cause for some real concern for the 25-year-old starter, who led all big league starters with 38 homers allowed a year ago (2.30 HR/9 in 28 starts and 148 23 IP in 2022).

But over the 10 starts which followed his first outing this season, he did manage to keep the home runs in check, giving up just three total in 56 23 IP (0.48 HR/9).

Gray gave up two home runs in two of three starts to begin the month of June, however, for four total in 17 13 IP (2.08 HR/9), and he gave up another two, both in the fifth against the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday, leaving him with 2.42 HR/9 in four starts and 21 13 IP this month.

The second of the two blasts he allowed in the fifth inning put the Cardinals on top, with Paul Goldschmidt’s 13th of 2023 making it 6-5, after Brendan Donovan hit a two-run shot (his 7th) to tie things up at 5-5 after Gray’s teammates gave him a 5-0 lead in the first two innings.

Gray was done for the day after throwing 102 pitches in five innings, over which he gave up nine hits, a walk, and six earned runs, and the Nationals added just one run after the home-half of the second, in what ended up an 8-6 loss. The starter lamented when he spoke with reporters after the game that he wasn’t able to make the early lead hold up.

“The offense has been phenomenal for me out there pitching,” Gray said in his post game comments, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman. “I can’t applaud those guys enough.

“I’ve just got to be better and not squander a five-run lead.”

“He just couldn’t finish hitters off today,” manager Davey Martinez said following the club’s fourth straight loss and 8th loss in their last 10 games. “[He] left a couple balls up in the zone. Fell behind 2-0 on Donovan, got a ball up in the zone. With a team like that, you’ve got to make your pitches. Get to two strikes, you’ve got to finish them off.

“Today, he just couldn’t do that.”

And the home runs?

“The two today, I think, were probably poor pitches,” Gray told reporters.

“When you fall behind, and you got good hitters that can hit the ball, you got to make your pitches,” Martinez added.

“Really got to make your pitches. And work ahead. And you’ve got to put guys away. We always talk about the three pitches or less, a lot of 2-2s, 3-2s, so, they got him today, but look, he’s been pitching well, today it just didn’t work out for him today.”

The manager was asked if he saw anything change for Gray when he got the big lead early in the outing.

“I know he was trying to work ahead, trying to get quick outs, but they’re a tough team. If you don’t make your pitches — they’re going to make you work, they fouled some balls off, some good pitches off, and got back in the count, so like I said ... today was a day he just couldn’t finish hitters off, and he got beat by it. So, he’ll come back out in five days, but his stuff was good.”

The Nationals’ offense put up the five runs early, but Cards’ starter Jack Flaherty settled in and held them to two hits between the third and sixth innings, remaining on the mound a bit longer than expected given his start, and leaving only after he issued a walk and hit a batter with one out in the seventh.

“I thought we had really good at-bats all day, I really did,” Martinez said of the effort by his offense. “We hit some hard balls, we really did. I liked the fact that we stopped chasing.

“Early we chased, so we got to continue to not chase, get the ball in the zone, be ready, and they did that earlier, and Flaherty settled down a little bit, but we still had him on the ropes, we hit some balls hard.”