Gray’s Back Home:
Josiah Gray tossed 5 1⁄3 scoreless against the San Diego Padres on the road in Petco Park, and followed up on the solid outing with six strong against the Philadelphia Phillies in the Nationals’ 2-1 win in Citizens Bank Park. His manager talked after the outing against Philly about what is working for the 25-year-old starter, who was named as Washington’s only All-Star rep while their team was in the City of Brotherly Love.
“Right now he’s in a good spot,” Davey Martinez told reporters. “But he’s going get better.”
“He really is gonna get better,” Martinez said after Gray threw 99 pitches for the second start in a row.
“We talk a lot about the pitch efficiency. Today with six innings, 99 pitches. That’s awesome to me. And once he gets to do that, the strikeouts are gonna come. We talked to him all the time, you want to strike out more guys, pitch deeper in games. That’s how you strike out 10-12 guys all the time.”
Gray struck out eight in the outing, his second-highest K total on the year, walked just one, and gave up six hits.
The start left him with a 3.30 ERA, a 4.57 FIP, 43 walks (4.06 BB/9), 86 strikeouts (8.12 K/9), and a .247/.330/.396 line against in 17 games and 95 1⁄3 IP on the year going into the third game of four with the Cincinnati Reds this week in the nation’s capital.
Gray got a double play and a swinging K after giving up a leadoff single in an 11-pitch top of the first last night, and he took the mound in the second with a 1-0 lead, and retired the first two batters he faced, but a 2-1 fastball up and over the middle of the plate to Joey Votto got hit hard, and went 382 ft., over the out-of-town scoreboard, for a game-tying homer. Votto’s 5th on the year, 1-1. Spencer Steer reached on a throwing error by Jeimer Candelario in the next at-bat, and he scored on a line drive to center by Tyler Stephenson that Alex Call dove for but couldn’t catch, 2-1, and 3-1 when Stephenson scored on an RBI double to right field by Will Benson.
Gray worked around a leadoff walk in a 13-pitch third, with help from Lane Thomas, who got his 8th outfield assist on an out at third on a single by Votto with two out.
Gray hit Stephenson in a one-out at-bat in the Reds’ fourth, and Stephenson went first-to-third on a single to left-center by Benson, and scored on a single to right by TJ Friedl, who lined a high 2-1 cutter out to Lane Thomas, 4-1.
A 28-pitch fourth, which ended with Keibert Ruiz and Dom Smith back-picking yet another runner on first base, pushed Gray up to 74 pitches total, and his 79th pitch, a 2-2 slider up and pretty much middle-middle got hit hard, 455 ft to right-center at 111.6 MPH off the bat-type hard by Elly De La Cruz, who let the Nationals (who forced him to remove a rubber bat casing thingie from the knob of his bat earlier in the game, before MLB then said it had been previously approved, allowing him to reattach it(?)), know it was back on the bat, 5-1.
Effortless upper deck strength for Elly De La Cruz. pic.twitter.com/RK3OEUianw— MLB (@MLB) July 6, 2023
Per Major League Baseball: "The conversations during the game regarded a rules check involving equipment - specifically the housing on the knob of the bat. The housing used by the player is permissible and approved, which was communicated to the Nationals."— Mark Zuckerman (@MarkZuckerman) July 6, 2023
Josiah Gray’s Line: 5.0 IP, 8 H, 5 R, 3 ER, 4 BB, 6 Ks, 2 HRs, 102 P, 55 S, 6/2 GO/FO.
“His breaking ball wasn’t as sharp,” Martinez said of his starter’s effort in what ended up a 9-3 loss for the Nationals. “His fastball command wasn’t as sharp. But you know what, he should have been out of the [second] inning. Two outs, we make a play, we get out of the inning right there ... we can’t give teams those extra outs. Every time we do that it comes back and bites us, but I thought after that he settled down a little bit. Got behind. He faced seven hitters after that I think, and five 2-0 counts, so he’s just got to work ahead.”
ALSO THIS - OH, NO, IT’S KNOBGATE:
Davey Martinez was asked what he objected to with Elly De La Cruz’s bat knob and what the discussion on the field was during this sequence, and the sixth-year skipper downplayed it.
“It wasn’t a big issue. I just wanted to know what that was,” Martinez explained. “I don’t think I’ve — I haven’t seen anybody — I know what the device is, but I’ve never seen nobody wear it during the game. So I just went out and I even told [home plate umpire Quinn Wolcott] like, ‘I’m not trying to make a big deal about it, but he’s wearing this thing on his bat.’ So they checked it and when they came back and told me, ‘Hey, it’s legal.’ I was all good. It was over. It was done with. Apparently, he uses it for — like a part of a handle. It’s all good. I’m not going to make a big deal about it.”
Pool report with crew chief Adrian Johnson on the Elly De La Cruz bat check ... pic.twitter.com/duE2tAI4Kw— Mark Zuckerman (@MarkZuckerman) July 6, 2023
“I saw it yesterday,” Martinez said, noting he’d noticed De La Cruz’s bat on Tuesday night, “... towards the end. But like I said, I didn’t want to do it after an at-bat. I did it before his first at-bat. Like I said, I told Quinn, ‘Hey, I’ve never seen them wear it before.’ I don’t know what’s going on with it. And they checked it and they came back and said it was legal, and I said, ‘I’m good. No big deal.’”
Asked if he felt like he needed to explain his thinking to Reds’ manager David Bell, Martinez said he didn’t think that was necessary.
“I think they understand,” he said. “I hope they understand. I played with [Reds’ bench coach Freddie Benavides]. Freddie knows I’m not trying to penalize this kid, I’m not. I love the way he plays the game. I didn’t like his antics after he hit the home run. We can do without that. He’s got only two weeks in the big leagues. But he’s going to be a good player.”
• Lane Thomas walked to start the home-half of the first inning, advanced to second on a hit by Luis García, took third on a double play grounder, and after a walk by Joey Meneses and a hit-by-pitch on Dom Smith, Thomas scored on a wild pitch by Reds’ right-hander Graham Ashcraft, 1-0 Nats after one.
• Corey Dickerson, CJ Abrams, and Alex Call hit three consecutive singles off Ashcraft in the bottom of the second inning, but Lane Thomas (0 for 7 with the bases loaded this season before the at-bat) popped out to first, and Luis García sent a grounder to second base to start an inning-ending, rally-killing, 4-6-3 DP. 1 for 5 w/ RISP, 4 LOB.
Davey Martinez, in his post game press conference on Wednesday discussed this sequence with the bases loaded, and compared it to the struggles the Nationals had in Tuesday’s loss.
“Same. Chase, chase. Right?” He asked rhetorically. “I don’t think we swung at a strike in two at-bats there, so we got to get the ball in the zone. I try to talk to them about, ‘Hey, the pitchers are the ones — in that big moment, they got to throw strikes, so get a good ball you can handle, and try to hit it hard. We just got to learn how to keep the ball in the zone in those situations.”
• Luis García took Lane Thomas off the basepaths when he grounded into a force at second after Thomas led off the Nats’ seventh with a hit, but García took third, on a double to right by Jeimer Candelario, and scored on a groundout by Joey Meneses, 7-2 Reds after seven.
Amos Willingham took over on the mound in the sixth, and worked around a single for a scoreless frame.
Joe La Sorsa gave up back-to-back singles by Jake Fraley and Joey Votto in the first two at-bats of the Reds’ seventh, and a balk on an attempt to pick Votto off of first forced in run No. 6 for the Reds, 6-1, and 7-1 on when Votto scored on a two-out infield single by TJ Friedl.
With the score 7-2 after seven, Elly De La Cruz doubled off La Sorsa in the eighth, stole third base, and scored on a single by Jake Fraley, 8-2, and 9-2 when Fraley scored as well...
BACK PAGE - TRADE DEADLINE TREPIDATION:
With another trade deadline fast approaching (August 1st this year), and the 34-52 Nats still deep in their reboot/reset/whatever, it appears there will be more wheeling and dealing for Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo for a third straight season.
“Well, I think we’re gonna be aggressive, take that whatever way you wanna take that,” Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies last week.
“We’re gonna do whatever’s best for the organization and for the long term,” he added.
“We’ve got some good players that a lot of teams are calling about, we’ve got six or seven guys that we’ve fielded phone calls about already.”
“I think it will be an active, aggressive trade deadline. I think that as always if we see an opportunity to create value in the organization and to improve ourselves and get better we’re certainly not afraid to make a move and make a trade. It’s something that I think we’ve seen in the last two trade deadlines that’s really set us up to start taking off with this rebuild.
“I think you see the core group of young players that [are] going to be part of a roster for the next championship-caliber club. You see where our minor league system has come from three drafts and two trade deadlines ago to today. And I think you see the progress, not only on the field with our young players but the feeling and the progress within the organization.”
Rizzo restated the organizational approach to the rebuild/reboot/whatever process as well, telling the Junkies they’re sticking to the plan which they kicked off at the deadline in 2021:
“We’ve got a plan to turn this thing around, we’re implementing the plan, and we have to be true to the plan and it’s something that we take very, very seriously... and I think you can clearly see what we’re trying to do and the next championship-caliber club is out there in our minor league system somewhere along with our big league guys. That’s kinda how we’re kinda gonna attack the trade deadline and we’re going to be careful to make the right moves and put ourselves in the position to be a factor in this thing next year.”
[ed. note - “Next what? Moving on. Is this the spending winter that will spark the return to contention? Moving on. Moving on. Don’t get too excited yet. 2009-2012, 2021-24?”]
With all of the chatter, with some one-year contracts on the roster, some desirable players potentially available, and the plan in place for the last few years, how are the players in the clubhouse approaching the next few weeks, knowing they might be on a different team come August 2nd?
“It’s a tough time of year,” manager Davey Martinez acknowledged when asked about how the club is handling it all earlier this week. “I can tell you now, we got some guys thinking about it already. We got some guys that love it here, but I always have to tell them, ‘Hey, it’s part of the game. You can only control what you can control, and then when things do happen, we bring the next guys here, we got to get them better, we’ll take a look at some of these other younger guys we’re going to get and go from there.’”