GRAY IN THE BRONX:
Josiah Gray threw 83 pitches (50 of them strikes) in three innings against the Boston Red Sox last week in Nationals Park, giving up five hits, three walks, and five runs, all earned, taking the loss in what ended up a 5-4 game in the Sox’ favor in Washington, D.C.
“The command of the fastball just hasn’t been there,” Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez told reporters in assessing Gray’s recent struggles (11.12 ERA, 5.56 FIP, .306/.404/.510 line against in three starts and 11 1⁄3 IP this month before last night), “… and he’s trying to rely on too many secondary pitches. He gets behind and then he just loses the plate there. 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.”
“He’s just relying on too many secondary pitches,” Martinez reiterated at another point in his post game presser. “He’s got to get in that attack mode again.”
Gray told reporters, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman, he saw his recent rough stretch as part of the ups and downs of a major league season.
“There’s some good starts, some bad starts, some OK starts,” he explained. “I think the last three have been self-inflicted damage, more or less. One pitch away, but not getting out of those jams. I know things will turn for me.”
Last night, pitching in Yankee Stadium, the New Rochelle, New York native held the Yankees to a run on a solo home run through five innings, giving up a blast to right-center field off of catcher Ben Rortvedt’s bat on a hanging 0-1 curve, but not much else hit-wise, though Gray walked five of the 21 batters the faced through five innings (85 pitches).
Gray’s 16-pitch, 1-2-3 sixth pushed him up to 101, and he was done for the night at that point with the score tied 1-1 in the Bronx.
Josiah Gray’s Line: 6.0 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 5 BB, 4 Ks, 1 HR, 101 P, 50 S, 5/5 GO/FO.
Gray threw 45% sinkers according to BaseballSavant.com, up from significantly from a 2023 average of 12.5% sinkers before tonight, mixed in 25% sliders (26.6% on the year), threw 22% curves (up from 16.1% average), and 5% fastballs, 3% changeups, and one cutter (1%, down from 17.8% this season), generating 12 swinging and getting 12 called strikes on the night six swinging on his slider and seven called with his sinker.
“Josiah wasn’t real sharp, but he made pitches when he had to, gave us six strong innings,” Martinez said after the Nationals beat the Yankees 2-1.
The fact he did what he did while throwing more balls than strikes?
“To me that’s a testament to how good his stuff is,” Martinez added. “But he made pitches when he had to, that’s the key. He walked guys, but he made some key pitches when he needed to. And he knows. We talk all the time that he’s got to clean some things up, but he competes. He competes and he gives you everything he has.”
“[Gray] was on point, you know,” CJ Abrams told reporters after the game, “the defense had his back, and we had timely hits as well.”
KieBOOM & CJ!!:
Carter Kieboom returned to the majors over the weekend with a new mindset, one earned the hard way, with struggles in the majors once the 2016 1st Round pick was called up for the first time in 2019, and a series of injuries including Tommy John surgery in 2022 and a shoulder impingement and then an oblique injury earlier this year which limited him to just 44 games across three levels of the Nationals’ system.
“He got hurt, he was on rehab, he came back and played, and then he got hurt again, so it’s been a slow process for him,” manager Davey Martinez explained when Kieboom joined the Nationals as the 27th man for Sunday’s Little League Classic in Williamsport, PA.
He was swinging the bat a lot better. He’s playing third base. Hopefully he’s over the injuries and he can get back and really start playing and get him back in the swing of things.”
Kieboom, who’ll turn 26 on September 3rd, put up a combined .256/.362/.411 line with six doubles and six home runs in 196 plate appearances in the minors before Sunday.
He told reporters once he came back up it’s different for him being back this time around.
“When they told me, there was a lot going through my mind,” Kieboom explained, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman. “I was kind of exhausted in a way, but there’s so much energy, I’m really excited. I just told myself that you worked so hard for this, and you worked so hard to come back, you have to enjoy it.
“No more pressure on yourself. Just have fun with the time left that you have. That’s kind of where my head’s at right now.”
Kieboom didn’t play in Williamsport, but Martinez penciled him in for the first of three with the New York Yankees in the Bronx this week, and the first time up he hit a 1-0 fastball low and in out to left-center for a 382 ft. blast on his second pitch and first swing back up in the majors since 2021, taking Carlos Rodón deep for the Nationals’ only run through seven in NY.
“It was awesome,” Kieboom’s manager said after the 2-1 win over the Yankees.
“He put a good swing on a ball, but I also liked his takes and his patience up there. But he looked good today, so that’s awesome to get him back up here and he helps us win.”
And it has to be a real confidence boost for Kieboom to come out swinging in his return to the majors, right?
“Yeah, big. Big,” Martinez said. “He just came out of my office and I told him I was proud of him. He went down there and worked really hard to get back up here and has a good first day. But it’s not always easy when you have to work your way back. He went through the process and did it well.”
Mason Thompson tossed a scoreless seventh to keep things tied in the opener, after taking over for Josiah Gray.
Tommy Kahnle took over for the Yankees and got the first two outs of the eighth, but he left a first-pitch change up to CJ Abrams, and the Nationals’ shortstop bounced it off of the foul pole, 345-ish feet to right in the Bronx for his 13th of the year and a 2-1 lead.
CJ Abrams is going places.— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) August 23, 2023
Like deep. pic.twitter.com/TZQGHYzYlL
Was Abrams sitting on the fastball, (knowing Kahnle throws them 79.6% of the time it would make sense)?
“I sit fastball always,” Abrams said after the game, “and just react with the hands, trust your hands.”
“I mean, I’m not trying to hit home runs, but they just happen at the right time, I guess. But I just look for my pitch and just react.”
Does the fact Abrams has now hit 13 homers on the year surprise anyone?
“I know I had’em,” Abrams joked, “but I didn’t know when they’d show up.”
“No, we’re not surprised by the power,” Martinez laughed, “like I said earlier, we’re just trying to teach him the right way.”
Hunter Harvey struck out two in a 19-pitch (12-strike), 1-2-3 bottom of the eighth, in which he struck out two Yankees, and Kyle Finnegan closed things out with a scoreless ninth for save No. 22 this season.
“They’re playing hard for 27 outs and for me that’s all I can ask out of them,” Martinez said of the series-opening win.
Gray gave them six innings, the bullpen tossed three scoreless, and they out-homered the Bronx Bombers 2-1 for the win.
“The bullpen comes in and shuts them down, but we get a key run. CJ Abrams big home run there for us,” Martinez said, “and our defense, I can say our defense today was really good. It was a good win here in Yankee Stadium. You don’t often see a 2-1 victory here, but the boys played well.”
“Dave Martinez represents the Washington Nationals organization with class on and off the field, and we are thrilled that he will continue to serve as manager,” the Nationals’ Managing Principal Owner, Mark D. Lerner, said in a press release on the club and their skipper since 2018 agreeing on another multi-year contract which will allow Martinez to see the reboot the organization kicked off in 2021 through.
“We are especially proud of the way the club has played since the end of June,” Lerner said, “... and the team’s play is a direct reflection of Davey’s leadership.
“He is determined, passionate and the right person to lead our current group of players as well as the next wave of talent coming to Washington, D.C.”
Which is, of course, something Martinez himself said he was excited to see when he spoke a few weeks back about his contract status and the prospect of managing the talent the team has acquired through trades and drafts over the past few years.
“We got a lot of good young guys, and some of the guys that are coming I’m really, really excited about,” Martinez told reporters recently. “Some of the core guys that we got in Double-A that are doing well, we’re excited about those guys. So the plan seems to be progressing and progressing quite quickly. I don’t think that we’re that far off. We’re playing, we compete here every day and the guys are going out there and playing hard. So I love that about them. So we’ve got to continue to go and continue to get better.”
Once his new multi-year deal in D.C. was announced, Martinez, in New York for three with the Yankees, said he’s thankful for the opportunity to continue doing what he’s passionate about.
“It’s a blessing for me and my family to be able to do what I love,” he said.
“And actually to be doing a lot better with it right now, with the way the guys are playing. And I really believe the future is bright here for us. So I’m excited about that.”
Martinez’s club arrived in NY at 12-6 this month, with wins in 23 of their last 37 games, and they were, “29-21 (.580) since June 24,” as the Nationals wrote in their pregame notes last night, which, they added, “is the best 50-game stretch for Washington since they capped the 2019 season going 34-16 (.680) in the last 50 games.”
The opportunity to continue the process with the young players already in the majors and the next wave working their way up means a lot to the manager.
“It always feel good when you’re working really hard to get better, but to continue to give me the opportunity to do that, especially with such a young group, means a lot to me,” he said. “And like I said, we are heading in the right direction, and these guys are playing really well right now. And it’s more about them than it is anything else. I love the progression. I love the process, what we’re going through. And to watch them go out there every day and do what they’re doing, it’s been a lot of fun. So we’re going to continue to get better, I know that. There’s a lot more to this than what we see, and those guys down in the minor leagues are continuing to get better as well, so we’re excited about that.”
Davey Martinez is excited for his new deal with the Nats.— Nationals on MASN (@masnNationals) August 23, 2023
Hear from the skipper, who is sticking around in D.C.! pic.twitter.com/Z3qnpu8B62
And it will be even more fun once the club is contending for World Series championships again, as they did in 2019, when they won it all in Martinez’s second season on the bench.
It’s been a bumpy roa— sorry, I’ll let Davey do that.
“You could never imagine how this path would go, but we’re here today,” Martinez said.
“I always talk about being where your feet are, and I like where we’re headed.
“I said before: ‘Bumpy roads lead to beautiful places.’ We’re going to get there.”
Keibert Ruiz in the fourth, Ildemaro Vargas one out later, and Alex Call in the top of the fifth, all got thrown out trying to stretch singles into doubles last night, running into three outs in what ended up a 2-1 win. So ... what did their manager think of the baserunning gaffes? If he thinks they were gaffes?
“What baserunning plays?” Martinez said with a laugh. “Yeah. Hey, like I said before, I think some of these guys, Lou Brock crawled into them or something, and I was like, ‘What in the world is going on here?’ But look, they’re playing aggressive, and that’s what I love about these guys, is they’re really trying to play aggressive, you know, other than the three little instances today, they’ve been running the bases well.”