With six innings of work on the mound in Oriole Park at Camden Yards, in which he gave up just one run on five hits, walking two and striking out seven, Josiah Gray lowered his ERA to 3.91 on the year, down from his 5.02 ERA in 28 starts and 148 2⁄3 in his first full year pitching in the majors last season.
Gray, 25, gave up a solo home run, by Gunnar Henderson, on his seventh pitch of the game, a 2-2 slider, low and in, the Baltimore Orioles’ 22-year-old, 2019 2nd Round pick hit 400 ft. to right field for his 28th home run of 2023, and the 22nd home run off of Gray in 30 starts and 159 IP this season (for 1.25 HR/9 this year, down from 2.30 HR/9 in ‘22).
Gunnar Henderson gets the Bird Bath going early with his 28th homer of the season. pic.twitter.com/SLsrYvYlbb— MLB (@MLB) September 26, 2023
Washington’s starter held it there, however, working around a pair of two-out singles in the second, a two-out hit in the third, and a leadoff walk and single in the fifth, with Henderson striking out and Aldey Rutschman, the O’s 25-year-old, 2019 1st Round pick, grounding into an inning-ending 5-6-3 DP to end the home-half of that inning.
Gray returned to the mound at 86 pitches in the sixth, and worked around a two-out walk in a 12-pitch frame which ended his outing.
The Nationals’ right-handed starter picked up 14 swinging strikes (five on his sinker and five on his curve, which he threw 39% and 21% of the time, respectively, three on his cutter (19%), and one on his changeup (6%)), and 14 called strikes as well, (six of them on his sinker, four on his curve, two on his cutter, and one each on his slider and sweeper).
Josiah Gray's 2Ks in the 3rd. pic.twitter.com/Ae6Id8mtVd— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 26, 2023
His manager and catcher were impressed with Gray’s use of the changeup, which even if he used it sparingly, stood out for Martinez and Keibert Ruiz.
He threw it just 1.4% of the time in his first 29 starts, but upped the usage a bit, and got both the swinging K from Henderson and the double play from Rutschman with the pitch.
“Man, if he can develop that pitch right there, that’s going to help him out a lot,” Martinez said after the game.
“He was attacking the hitters early in the count,” Ruiz told reporters, “... the breaking ball pitch was working out good for him, and the changeup, I think that was the pitch that impressed me a lot tonight, in those big situations, he located it really good to Rutschman for the double play and the strikeout for the leadoff hitter [Henderson], but I think the changeup was the big pitch tonight.”
“He did really well,” Martinez added. “Used all of his pitches. Changeup, threw some really good changeups today.
“But his fastball was good. It was electric today. Proud of him. He finished up the season really strong, we can build off of that for next year.”
“That’s what we’ve been looking for all year. To do that to [Henderson] and Rutschman both, to get the double play, that was a great job.”
It was definitely a positive end to Gray’s second full big league season.
“I think anytime you can finish on a strong outing,” he said, “... it takes you into the offseason with a positive mindset. Feel like you can kind of check that box. So I’ve been able to have a last couple good outings, but this one obviously feels sweet going into the offseason knowing that some of the changes I’ve made over the last three outings have obviously [bred] results.
“So I can focus on those things and look forward to the offseason being positive and getting back after it next year.”
Martinez said the start was an example of what he thinks Gray can do at his best. Gray, in his own post game comments, agreed, indirectly.
“I think tonight summed up the pitcher I can be,” Gray explained.
“Getting ground balls when I wanted. Getting weak contact. Minimizing damage. Working around a walk or two.
“Getting a strikeout in big spots. It’s the pitcher I know I can be. It’s just a matter of being consistent about it.”
Good as he’s been at times in 2023, the Nats’ skipper said there was plenty of room for the starter to improve going forward.
“He’s still young. He’s still learning,” Martinez said. “He’s learning a lot about himself. He’s learning a lot about what he can and can’t do. But I know that in the future he’s going to be a guy to be reckoned with. I’m not just talking about in short term, I’m talking about long term. I think with him, we have a chance to win here and get back to where we need to be, and that’s to be in the playoffs.”
“This year, it’s been a good year,” Gray said, before acknowledging there’s room for growth.
“I know there’s a lot more work to be done.”
The next step for Gray?
“What you saw today,” Martinez said. “Really. What you saw today, I think he could repeat that every five days. And now, like I said, this should build confidence for him, especially using his changeup, using his fastballs, locating his fastball. This was a great step forward for him, and like I said, going home this winter and building off of that will be awesome.”