GRAY OUT EARLY:
Josiah Gray gave up a single and an RBI double in the first inning of his outing against the Philadelphia Phillies in Citizens Bank Park last week, but the 25-year-old starter tossed three scoreless after surrendering the early run, only to run into trouble in the Philly half of the fifth, with a one-out walk to Kyle Schwarber and a two-out, two-run home run on a 2-2 cutter down in the zone but over the middle of the plate to Bryce Harper, which the former Nats’ outfielder hit 397 feet to right-center for a two-run homer. A single in the at-bat which followed ended Gray’s outing after 92 pitches in 4 2⁄3 IP.
“Had to grind through it definitely,” Gray said of the outing overall, as quoted by MASN’s Bobby Blanco.
“Had some good stuff out there, but had to grind through it. There are some good hitters.
“Just one bad pitch to Harper there. If I could have that back, it might be a little different outing.”
The home run was the 16th the Nationals’ 25-year-old starter has allowed this season (1.14 HR/9 in 126 2⁄3 IP), one year after he led the majors with 38 HRs allowed in 148 2⁄3 IP (2.30 HR/9).
Gray gave up the 17th home run he’s allowed this year on his fourth pitch of the game in the series opener with the Boston Red Sox last night in Washington, D.C. Alex Verdugo hit the 1-2 slider up in the zone he got 405 ft to right-center for a leadoff blast and another early lead off the Nationals’ starter.
A leadoff single (by Red Sox’ catcher Reese McGuire), a pair of two-out walks (first to Rafael Devers and then to Trevor Story), and a two-run single, on a 3-2 cutter not far enough in, (to Triston Cassas), added to the visitor’s lead, 3-0, but the home team rallied to take the lead in the bottom of the third inning, on a pair of two-run doubles (by Keibert Ruiz, then Stone Garrett), 4-3.
Gray returned to the mound in the fourth, but was lifted after surrendering a leadoff single anda double which put runners on second and third with no one out. A sac fly/double play brought one of the two runners the starter left on in, and a wild pitch by Robert Garcia got away from Ruiz and allowed the fifth and final run on Gray’s line to score, in what ended up a 5-4 win for the Red Sox.
Josiah Gray’s Line: 3.0 IP, 5 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 4 Ks, 1 HR, 83 P, 50 S, 1/1 GO/FO.
Davey Martinez’s bullpen gave the club six scoreless in relief, after Gray’s abbreviated start, but outside of the four-run third, the Nationals failed to put any runs on the board, going 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position and five left on base in the loss.
“We came back. We kept it there for a little bit. We just couldn’t score any more runs,” he said after the game.
As for Gray’s recent struggles?
“The command of the fastball just hasn’t been there,” Martinez said, “and he’s trying to rely on too many secondary pitches.”
Gray threw 29% curveballs (up from a season-average of 15.7%), threw his sinker 22% of the time (up from 12.2%), mixed in 20% cutters (up from 17.7%), and 13% four-seamers (down from 20.3%), and essentially put away the slider (8%), sweeper (4%), and changeup (4%), when he’s normally thrown his slider 27.2% of the time on the year.
“He gets behind and then he just loses the plate there,” Martinez continued.
“So we got to get him to understand that the use of his fastball has got be a lot better.
“When he was really good — he throws his fastball down for strikes, he’s got some run to it, and then he can go to secondary pitches, but his pitch count is getting way up there.”
Gray used up to 31 of his 83 pitches in the first, and the Red Sox fouled off 21 of his pitches to run his count up and knock him out early.
“[Thirty-one] pitches in the first,” Gray said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman, after the game.
“I knew it probably wasn’t going to be one of the longer ones of my outings. I was trying to grind through it, give my team some length. But coming out of that first, I knew I had to grind to get some outs.”
“He’s just relying on too many secondary pitches. He’s got to get in that attack mode again,” Gray’s manager said, summing up his assessment of Gray’s recent starts.
“Sometimes he’s just got to go out there and put everything aside and just attack the hitters, and just pound the zone.
“His stuff is good,” Martinez added. “His stuff is really good. You don’t get to this point, especially this year being an All-Star and everything not having good stuff, so the command right now is a little bit of an issue, but I know he can turn that around, but he’s got to trust his fastball, start using it more, and throw it over the plate.”
Hunter Harvey went on the 15-Day IL with a right elbow strain on July 17th, after putting up a 3.12 ERA, a 3.62 FIP, 12 walks, 45 Ks, and a .196/.258/.336 line against in 39 games and 40 1⁄3 IP, over which he saved nine games in 14 opportunities. Harvey started throwing again fairly quickly after going on the IL, and threw to hitters again over the weekend, and the Nationals liked what they saw enough to bring him right back to the majors once they deemed he was ready to go (with the club taking a cautious approach due to his injury history).
“He was 97-99 the other day and throwing strikes,” manager Davey Martinez said of what he saw when Harvey threw.
“My big concern was just making sure his mechanics were good, and he was fine.”
The sixth-year skipper explained further what the club was watching for with his mechanics when Harvey threw in front of the team’s brass this past weekend.
“Just staying on his legs,” Martinez explained. “Not rushing. And as he got up to those last 5-6 pitches, just watching his heartbeat and seeing if he sped up a little bit — that’s an indication that he got real tired — but he was fine. Like I said, he can probably throw 25 pitches if need be today.”
While Harvey was closing out games, with Kyle Finnegan as the set-up man most of the time before the injury, Martinez said they’ll work the hard-throwing righty (Harvey) back in slowly, with Finnegan continuing to close out games for now.
“Right now, Finnegan will close out games for us. We’ll get Harvey built up a little bit, and then we’ll see what happens.”
Since returning to the closer’s role in Harvey’s absence, Finnegan has been lights out, with a streak of 11 2⁄3 scoreless going into last night’s game, over which he walked one, struck out 14, and held opposing hitters to a .108/.128/.108 line, saving seven in seven opportunities to stabilize the back-end of the bullpen.
“He’s pounding the strike zone,” Martinez said of Finnegan’s success over this recent run.
“Really, really being aggressive. He’s working really hard on his secondary pitches and is landing them for strikes, which is great.”
Harvey got into last night’s game in the top of the ninth, with the Red Sox up 5-4, retiring the side in order in a 13-pitch, 10-strike frame.
“I wanted to just get him in there,” Martinez said of the decision to get Harvey right back out there. “We were down a run, but I wanted to make sure he got in there late in the game like that, and in a high-leverage situation as well and he was totally fine.”