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Washington Nationals news & notes: Nats take opener with Phillies, 8-7; closer than it should have been, but a W...

Notes and quotes from the Nationals’ series opener with the Phillies in D.C.

Gray Back In D.C.:

By the time Josiah Gray worked his way into and out of a bases-loaded, two-out jam in the fourth inning in Kansas City, the Washington Nationals’ 25-year-old right-hander was up to 91 pitches, having given up four hits, two walks, and two runs in a game his club would go on to win, 4-2.

“Today, he did a great job keeping us at 2-0,” manager Davey Martinez told reporters after the game.

“Things could’ve imploded there for us [in the fourth], but he did a great job of getting the outs we needed.”

“I think today was a good test,” Gray said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.

“A scrappy lineup, I think I had a few eight-plus pitch at-bats, so that probably knocked me out a little sooner than I wanted. But I thought the stuff was better than my last outing.”

In the previous turn in the rotation, Gray walked six but gave up just one run on three hits in five innings in which threw 88 pitches.

Through 11 starts, before last night’s series opener with the Philadelphia Phillies, Gray had a 2.77 ERA, a 4.50 FIP, 31 walks, 51 Ks, and a .241/.333/.371 line against in 61 23 IP.

Start No. 12 got off to a rocky start, with a single by Kyle Schwarber and an eight-pitch walk to Bryson Stott, but Gray retired the next three batters in order without either runner trying to advance, though he did end up throwing 24 pitches in the first.

Gray’s manager was asked in his pregame presser last night, how the starter had been able to work around all of the walks he’s issued (4.52 BB/9 going into the game, 4.60 BB/9 after the first inning BB), and find his way out of tough spots this season, whereas he may have gotten rattled in the past.

“He’s learned a lot about controlling his emotions on the field,” Martinez explained.

“When he’s going through these types of innings or batters, a lot of it is a credit to him, how to kind of control the heartbeat a little and try to get through it. So for me today, he’s got to pound the strike zone and utilize his fastball, keep the ball down, but get ahead of hitters.

“When he gets ahead of hitters he’s pretty tough, but we got to get him ahead of hitters, and stay ahead of hitters.”

Gray took the mound in the second with a 2-0 lead, and gave up a one-out single and two-out walk in front of a scuffling Kyle Schwarber, who singled the first time up tonight, then had the bat taken out of his hands on another Keibert Ruiz + Dom Smith (+ CJ Abrams this time) back-pick at first base. Drew Ellis took the two-out walk then got caught sleeping...

A nine-pitch, 1-2-3 third left Gray at 57 pitches total in three scoreless, but the 58th pitch of the game was a fastball down and in Nick Castellanos powered out the other way for a solo home run which got the Phillies on the board, down 6-1 to the Nats. The next three Phillies’ hitters went down in order in what ended up an eight-pitch frame.

A 13-pitch, 1-2-3 fifth left Gray at 78 pitches. He gave up a leadoff single by Stott and a one-out, two-run home run to left by Castellanos in the top of the fifth, 7-3, earning a visit from the Nationals’ pitching coach, Jim Hickey, and the starter gave up a double by Trea Turner on his 94th and final pitch...

Josiah Gray’s Line: 5.1 IP, 6 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 4 Ks, 2 HRs, 94 P, 58 S, 4/4 GO/FO.

Gray did pick up 13 swinging and 14 called strikes in the outing, spread pretty evenly across four pitches in both cases.


• Lane Thomas’s career-high 26-game on-base streak and his 15-game hit streak both ended with an 0-for in the series finale in LA, but the .324/.376/.602 run over the course of the on-base streak (with seven doubles, a triple, seven home runs, 15 RBIs, eight walks, and 21 runs scored in 26 games) left him with a .284/.340/.456 line overall on the year, and he started a new on-base streak with a nine-pitch walk against Philly starter Zack Wheeler the first time up last night. Thomas scored on a double to left by Jeimer Candelario one out later, 1-0, and Candelario took third on a Joey Meneses single before scoring on a Corey Dickerson sac fly, 2-0 after one.

• It had to be in BOLD letters somewhere in the Phillies’ scouting reports on Keibert Ruiz and Dominic Smith, “Watch out for back-picks!” but Philly third baseman Drew Ellis got caught in the top of the second, after he took a two-out walk with a runner on. Ruiz and Smith got him and CJ Abrams ran Ellis down for out No. 3, helping starter Josiah Gray out of a sort-of-jam.

• CJ Abrams doubled with one out in the Nats’ half of the second, then scored on an RBI hit by Alex Call, 3-0, and Luis García singled with two down to get Candelario up again and he bounced a two-run double off the out-of-town scoreboard in right, to make it a 5-0 lead for the home team. Joey Meneses battled Wheeler for 12 pitches and lined a two-out RBI single to left field to bring Candelario home, 6-0 in the second ... on Wheeler’s 57th pitch.

• Luis García went opposite field on Wheeler in the home-half of the fourth inning, hitting his 5th of 2023 out to left field on a 95 MPH first-pitch fastball belt-high outside from the Philly righty, who exited stage left after the blast, which put the Nationals up 7-1.


Carl Edwards, Jr. took over for Gray with a runner on second and one out in the third, with the Nationals up 7-3, and the righty ... got one out before Brandon Marsh’s two-out RBI hit made it a 7-4 game in the Nationals’ favor.

In the seventh, Edwards, Jr. gave up a one-out double by Kyle Schwarber and a single by Bryson Stott before he was lifted in favor of Hunter Harvey, who walked Bryce Harper to load the bases, and gave up a single to center on an 0-2 slider up to Nick Castellanos, 7-6.

With the tying run at third, Trea Turner stepped in and K’d looking before J.T. Realmuto hit a grounder to third to end the threat.

Mason Thompson got a high-leverage spot in the top of the eighth, and gave up a leadoff walk to Brandon Marsh, and one-out single by Drew Ellis, and that was all Davey Martinez needed to see, as he went to Kyle Finnegan, quickly...

Finnegan got a grounder up the middle from Kyle Schwarber in the next at-bat, which CJ Abrams fielded behind the bag, stepping on second before he fired a throw by first base, allowing the tying run to score, E:6, 7-7.

Alex Call walked with two outs in the Nats’ eighth, with Philly righty Connor Brogdon on in relief, and Call stole second base on a pitch in the dirt, and scored on a two-out RBI single by Lane Thomas, who connected on a 2-2 changeup inside, 8-7.

Finnegan came back out with a one-run lead, and gave up Nick Castellanos’s 4th hit of the night, a one-out double into the right-center field gap. Trea Turner worked the count full in the next at-bat, but popped out to right for out No. 2, and J.T. Realmuto popped out to first base to end it. Ballgame. A 34-pitch appearance for Finnegan. Final Score: 8-7 Nationals.

Their manager was impressed with the overall effort in the series opener.

“Today is a big win for us,” Martinez said. “‘Cause I feel like, ‘Hey, when you play teams like that you’ve got to put up as many runs as possible, when you come out the way we did, we’ve got to tack on, and it didn’t happen tonight, but we got one more than the other guys tonight.”

And what did he learn about his own guys in the game?

“It tells me a lot about our club, and the heart that some of these guys have,” Martinez said.

“Finnegan,” he added, “I honestly didn’t want to put him back out there for the ninth, and he was adamant about going back out. We took Harvey out because he pitched a lot a couple days ago like that, and I didn’t want to send him back out there, but he wanted the ball. And that shows me something, and the way these guys just are relentless about coming back, and doing the little things. You know, Alex Call with a walk and a stolen base there, and then Lane battling to knock in those runs. We’re playing good.

“Look, you look over there, and I looked up and down that lineup, there’s no easy outs over there ... so we got to make pitches, we got to have our defense play well, and we’ve got to throw strikes.”

4th Place Phillies:

Philadelphia’s Phillies won 13 of 16 with Washington’s Nationals last season, but going into the first game of 2023 between the NL East rivals, the Phils were just a game ahead of the Nats in the division standings, coming off a 10-16 month May for Philly. [ed. note- “The D.C. crew went 14-15 in May.”]

A reporter tried to get Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez to bite on a question about the two teams potentially being tied for 4th place if the home team was able to win the series opener. Good luck, interpid reporter...

“I think going 1-0 today means a lot,” Martinez said, deftly deflecting and staying on brand.

“That’s the way I’m looking at it, right? So, yeah, we just got to — what I want us to do is play a little better at home. We’ve been playing pretty good on the road.

Philadelphia Phillies v Washington Nationals Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

“Let’s try to go 1-0 today and start playing better at home.”

Coming off a win in the series finale with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and a .500 road trip to Kansas City and LA, the Nationals were 13-15 on the road this season, and 11-17 at home in the nation’s capital.

And his assessment of what the 2023 Phillies were doing this season and what his own club was up against this weekend?

“They’re a good ballclub,” Martinez said. “They’ve had their struggles, but they got a lot of good pieces over there, so we just got to focus on us and take care of us, and play the kind of baseball we’ve been playing. We’ve been pretty good. As I said with LA, we’ve got to limit our mistakes, catch the ball, don’t allow these guys to get 28-29-30 outs, because you’ll pay the price, I mean, they got some guys that can hit the ball a long way over there, so — some guys that I am very familiar with, so we just got to go out and play baseball, get good starting pitching tonight from Josiah, and go from there.”


Bryce Harper (2012-18), Trea Turner (2015-21), and Kyle Schwarber (2021), all returned to the nation’s capital again last night.

Before the series opener, Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez and reporters in D.C. talked about reunions like this weekend’s, and how the manager approaches meeting up with all of his former players when they come back to play with other teams.

Philadelphia Phillies v Washington Nationals Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

“These guys will always matter to me,” Martinez said. “We’ve built this relationship together over the years, and even though they’re on other teams, I periodically try to see how they’re doing and what they’re doing, especially now that we’ve got to face them, but you’re talking about three elite players that were here and like I said, one of them [Turner] we won the World Series with, the other two are very special to me. I’ve had Schwarber for a long time [first in Chicago then in D.C.], and just to be able to work with Harp was tremendous. And all those guys’ careers have taken off, so yeah, it will be good to see [Turner] and hopefully I get to say hello to him either today or tomorrow, once again, I’d like to come off the top end with a 1-0 today.”