“I was shocked,” Josiah Gray, 25, told reporters, as quoted by MASN writer Bobby Blanco, of learning he was named the Washington Nationals’ lone representative for the 2023 MLB All-Star Game in Seattle.
“I was shocked,” Gray continued, “... just because I think there are two other guys who are really deserving.”
The third-year major leaguer, acquired by the Nationals from the Los Angeles Dodgers at the trade deadline back in 2021 (as part of the return for both Max Scherzer & Trea Turner) mentioned two of his teammates, Lane Thomas and Jeimer Candelario, as players who he thought deserved the same recognition.
“Hopefully, they can find their way there,” he added. But receiving the news of his own selection?
“Just to kind of be in that moment and hear your name and everything that goes into it,” he said, “... what this year has kind of been, ups and downs and everything in-between, to kind of have it get to this point is really cool and something I’ll always embrace.”
“He was genuinely shocked, he really was,” Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez confirmed after he delivered the news to his starter in the visiting team’s club house in Citizens Bank Park early this month.
“As I always do, I had him address the team, and he got really emotional, and he thanked his teammates. Without them — he said, ‘Without you guys, this probably wouldn’t be possible.’ He said, ‘I represent all you guys,’ so it’s awesome.”
“I kind of just stopped in my tracks,” Gray said, “... just because I didn’t think it would be my name. You dream of playing baseball at this level for years and years as a kid, and being an All-Star is kind of the cherry on top. So to hear my name was really cool, and being able to share it with all the guys and embrace with them was really special.”
In the first half of the 2023 campaign, Gray finished with a 3.41 ERA, a 4.79 FIP, 47 walks, 92 Ks, and a .253/.339/.415 line against in 18 starts and 100 1⁄3 IP, a year after he put up a 4.40 ERA, a 5.21 FIP, 39 walks, 106 Ks, and a .227/.312/.448 line against in 92 IP before the break in 2022.
Gray, on his way to giving up an MLB-high 38 home runs on the year last season, gave up 21 in his first half last year (2.05 HR/9). This season, he’s allowed 14 home runs thus far (1.26).
What’s been different for the Nationals’ starter so far this season?
“Just selection, usage, just being smarter out there, leaning on my stuff,” Gray said shortly after learning he was an All-Star.
“Keeping guys off balance a little bit better. Being a little bit more unpredictable, throwing more strikes, more quality pitches.
“Just a culmination of things and it’s really been successful. But like I said, the work doesn’t stop here. I have three more months-plus to go.”
Gray elaborated on those thoughts when he talked about what was different this year in his All-Star availability from T-Mobile Park.
“For me it came down to pitch mix first,” Gray said of the changes he’s made. “Introducing a cutter (16.8%) and throwing a sinker more (11.4%, up from 3.7% in 2022), just throw inside on lefties and righties, that helps. And it continues to help, and just trying to continue to streamline my delivery a little bit, and just be a little bit more — I guess flow a little better, and then just trying to not be too caught up on, if I walk a guy here. I can still get a double play, I can get a pop-up and get out of a jam and just not kind of digging myself into a hole too much.”
To see his hard work rewarded with his success on the mound and his selection to the NL’s roster for the Midsummer Classic means a lot for the pitcher and his rebooting ballclub.
“Awesome,” Martinez said, when asked about Gray getting the opportunity. “We talk about Josiah all the time and what he’s done, how much he’s matured and where he’s at. But this is big for one of our young players. I’m proud of him. He’s learning a lot of stuff, he’s getting better. Every time he’s out there he gets better. He’s understanding what he needs to do to be successful. But to make an All-Star team, and you’re in your first one, it’s awesome. I’m proud of him.”
“It’s one of our young starters who’s doing well,” the sixth-year manager added, “and I was happy for him. We a very emotional couple of sentences back and forth to each other before we kind of broke down, but [it’s] well-deserved. He deserves it. He works really hard every day. I always talk about, you guys get to see him every five days, I see him every day and how much time he puts in to get better, so I’m proud of him. I really am. He deserves to be there. He’s going to represent us well.”
In addition to the changes and adjustments he’s made, Gray acknowledge how experience from his first two seasons has played a role in development. What did he learn in 2021-22?
“Just every day just kind of getting prepared for everything that comes with being a major league baseball player,” Gray said this week. “And this year has been awesome just to be in a clubhouse that guys are starting to progress every day, I’ve seen it in myself, and just going out there every outing trying to learn and get better. And it’s been great so far and I’m really looking forward to the future.”
There is of course, much more to learn, and Gray said he was taking the opportunity of his selection to learn what he can from his fellow All-Stars.
“I’m sitting next to [Pirates’ reliever David] Bednar and [Braves’ starter] Spencer Strider, so I’m going to pick their brains just on how elite their fastballs are,” Gray said, “... and just try and learn as best as I can over the next two days and take some tidbits back for the season.”
The highlight of his time in Seattle to that point, Gray said on Monday, was realizing he was an All-Star.
“The highlight has kind of just been being able to walk around the hotel and kind of be around All-Stars,” he said.
“Guys that are legit dudes, and say I’m one of those guys. And just being able to embrace it. Every little thing is really cool and just being able to enjoy it.”
Gray took the mound for his All-Star debut in the bottom of the third inning of the 93rd All-Star Game, retiring the three batters he faced in order in a 15-pitch frame in which he threw nine strikes and struck out one batter.