What was arguably Josiah Gray’s best start of the season (his seven-inning, 87-pitch outing against the San Francisco Giants last weekend in D.C.), began with back-to-back walks, but Gray stranded both of those runners, and the leadoff walk he issued in the second as well, then got down to business, giving up a single, double, and sac fly in the third, then retiring 11 of the final 13 batters he faced in a 10-1 win.
“Josiah was good,” manager Davey Martinez said of Gray’s work against the Giants, ‘... after the first two batters. He settled down and he got ahead of 26 hitters, which is great.”
Gray admitted he wasn’t focused in at the start, but quickly locked in after the back-to-back walks to start the game, and then he had to remain focused through some long bottoms of the innings.
“Just had to recenter my focus a little bit,” Gray said, as quoted by MASN’s Bobby Blanco, of his adjustments after the first two batters he faced.
“The first inning, walking the first two guys, just wasn’t really focused, I guess you could say.
“So I wanted to get some quick outs for the guys and they put up six runs and then they put up the four there in the fourth. So just had to refocus a little bit and kind of look at the score ahead and be like, if I give up a hit, if I give up a run, the guys had my back.
“Just pitch my game and get the first out, the first strike. So after the first two innings, I felt like I did a better job at that.”
Gray was sharp at the start last night in Flushing, Queens, NY’s Citi Field, working around a hit batter in an 18-pitch first, but he gave up a leadoff walk and one-out single in the home-half of the second, then allowed a two-out, base-loading walk which gave Brandon Nimmo an opportunity to open the scoring in the series opener, but a fly to left brought a 26-pitch inning to an end.
Josiah Gray, Nasty 88mph Cutter. ✂️ pic.twitter.com/e42ZDo0ptP— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 27, 2023
Up to 44 pitches total after two, Gray helped his own cause with an eight-pitch, 1-2-3 third, though Pete Alonso hit an 0-2 sweeper up and in to the back of the track in left for out No. 3. Phew!
Gray worked around a two-out single and an errant throw on a pick attempt for a scoreless, 18-pitch fourth, which left him at 70 total, and he got a strike’em out, throw’em out double play in the fifth after giving up a one-out walk, but threw 21 pitches in the frame, which left him at 91 total on a hot night in New York.
He returned to the mound in the bottom of the sixth, with a 1-0 lead, and Gray, who threw a total of six scoreless innings against the Mets in April, made it 12 scoreless on the year with another zero, working around a one-out HBP in a 15-pitch frame, for 106 total on the night.
Josiah Gray’s Line: 6.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 4 Ks, 106 P, 63 S, 1/4 GO/FO.
Josiah loves those road Grays pic.twitter.com/6ejIpy18pF— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) July 28, 2023
Gray got just seven swinging strikes on the night, four with his slider, but piled up 23 called strikes in the outing, spread out over six pitches.
“I thought Josiah threw the ball really well again,” Martinez said after what ended up a 2-1 loss.
The manager said the cutter, in particular, which Gray threw 38% of the time, up from an average of 16.8% on the season.
“The cutter was good,” Martinez said. “It was really good. He had all those lefties in the lineup. He utilized it really well, and it was effective. He went out for the sixth inning and they had all those lefties, we had [Jose A.] Ferrer up just in case something happened, but like I said all year long, [Gray has] been a bulldog in situations like that, and I felt confident that he could get through that inning and he did.”
• Mets’ starter Kodai Senga kept the Nationals’ hitters in check through five, but the upstart Nats finally got to the right-hander in the sixth. CJ Abrams walked to start the inning, stole second base (21st stolen base of 2023, and 18th consecutive successful attempt), and a catcher’s interference call with Jeimer Candelario at the plate, and a base-loading single by Joey Meneses, gave Keibert Ruiz an RBI opportunity he cashed in with a sac fly to right field which was deep enough to score Abrams, 1-0.
But Senga was good. Also Ghost Fork:
Kodai Senga, Dirty 83mph Ghost Fork. pic.twitter.com/UW8bXrhLLt— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 27, 2023
“Senga was really good. Hats off. But once we scored and we got a little bit of momentum there, we get first and third with less than two outs, we got to try to get that run in. You’re playing on the road and you’re playing in Citi Field, and you’re playing against a team that can hit — one run, it could be done, but being able to tack on a run, it helps.”
Turns out they could have used another run or two...
Jordan Weems got the ball for the Nationals in the seventh, and got two outs around a one-out double by Brett Baty. Manager Davey Martinez went to the bullpen again for lefty Jose A. Ferrer against Brandon Nimmo, who lined out to left field to end the inning. Still 1-0 Nats.
Mason Thompson gave up a one-out, infield single by Jeff McNeil with one out in the home-half of the eighth, and McNeil took third on a Pete Alonso fly to center which fell in front of Alex Call, who started off going back. With runners on the corners, Daniel Vogelback got a chance to tie it and hit one through the right side, 1-1.
A wild pitch from Thompson moved both of the runners into scoring position with one out, and a HBP on DJ Stewart loaded the bases in front of Mark Cahna.
Martinez went to the pen again at that point ... but with Kyle Finnegan warmed up, the tarp came out, and they went into a rain delay which lasted 90 minutes. Finnegan still came on after the long delay, with the bases loaded and one out in the eighth. Martinez brought his infield in, and Finnegan got up 0-2, but gave up a sac fly to right field by Cahna which got the job done, 2-1 Mets.
“We just got to start swinging the bats,” Martinez said after the one-run loss. “We got guys on third base with less than two outs, in games like this, those runs are important. We’ve got to have better at-bats, any way you can to get the ball in the air in the outfield, but we got to do a better job of that. We just haven’t been hitting like we were hitting like we were hitting about a week ago. We’ve got to start driving the balls again, and we put the balls in play, but there’s certain times where you got to understand what you’re trying to do up there and try to get that run in from third, especially in a 1-0 game.”
BACK PAGE - CJ Abrams’ Star Rising:
Going into last night’s series opener in New York (NL), Nationals’ shortstop CJ Abrams was, “... hitting .355 (22-for-62) with two doubles, a triple, three homers, seven RBI[s], four walks, one hit by pitch, nine stolen bases, and 16 runs scored,” since manager Davey Martinez put him atop Washington’s lineup.
“He’s hit safely in 13 of the 15 and has reached safely in 14 of the 15,” the Nationals added in their pregame notes for the first of four with the Mets last night.
As they noted, however, Abrams’ run didn’t start with the move to the leadoff spot, he got hot back in mid-June:
“Beyond the last 15 games, he is hitting .336 with a .540 slugging percentage (7 2B, 2 3B, 4 HR) and is 14-for-14 in stolen base attempts over his last 30 games since June 19.”
In GM Mike Rizzo’s weekly visit with 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies on Wednesday, he said work Abrams put in with hitting coaches Darnell Coles and Pat Roessler and Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez has really paid off in the last few months for the 22-year-old.
“Darnell and Pat and Davey got a hold of him and they kind of tweaked his swing a little bit,” Rizzo explained.
“We thought he had too much of a launch angle-type of swing, and we kind of tried to keep him evened out to hit that back-spinning line drive to left-center and right-center field,” the GM continued. “Davey is a big proponent of ‘use the middle of the field’-type of thing, gap-to-gap, it keeps you inside the ball, and when a mistake is made inside, you can always turn and burn on a ball and launch to the pull side. But I think [Abrams] got a little rhythm there in the leadoff spot, a little bit more swagger and he sees more pitches, he bats more often, and sees more pitches, and I think that the combination of the hard work our hitting coaches put in and CJ puts in, and I think he’s figured out a few tweaks in his swing to keep him more consistent.”
Abrams had hits in 18 of 20 games going into the matchup with the Mets last night, coming off a 7 for 25 (.280/.321/.560) homestand and a walk-off winner in the finale with Colorado’s Rockies on Wednesday afternoon.
“The tweak of his batting style and his swing has made him a little but more consistent,” the GM in D.C. said, noting Abrams’ increase in confidence as he’s been producing consistently.
“He sees the ball more often for longer out of the pitcher’s hand, and he’s hitting in better counts. I think that’s the key to all of our hitters; is stay in the strike zone, don’t chase, get in hitters’ counts, and be ready to launch your A-swing when you get that pitch in the zone.”
Abrams had multi-hit games in 10 of 20 games in July before Thursday.
“He’s been on fire for us,” Rizzo said, “... and really been kind of the engine that kickstarts our offense. He’s playing good defense, he’s stealing a lot of bases, and he’s becoming the dynamic player that we hoped he’d become. Now it’s all about keeping that consistency and that level of play for the long-term.”
“He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now,” Martinez told reporters after Wednesday afternoon’s win. “We’re giving him the leeway to get on base and feel free to run when he has the opportunity. But he’s having a lot of fun. What I love is that he’s playing really good defense, and that’s awesome, that he’s separating the hitting from the defense, and he’s going out there and making all the plays.”
When Abrams stepped to the plate in the ninth inning in the finale with the Rockies, his skipper told Catching and Strategy Coach Henry Blanco he was confident his shortstop would come through.
“I’ve got all the confidence in the world in him. I put him up in that leadoff spot because I felt like he could be the guy that could jumpstart us. He’s got all the ability in the world to hit leadoff, and now he’s showing it,” Martinez said.
“So, when we had him up there, I actually looked at Henry, I said, ‘Hey, game over right here. He’ll put the ball in play, he’ll come through.’ So it was a big moment for him, big moment for our team.”