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Washington Nationals news & notes: Josiah Gray and the Nats try to build on solid 2023 campaign...

Notes and quotes on Josiah Gray’s 2023 campaign...

Going into Josiah Gray’s 30th and final start of the 2023 campaign, Washington Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez talked about the growth he saw from the 25-year-old starter in his second full season and third overall run in the majors since he debuted in 2021.

“Well, obviously, he was an All-Star for us in the beginning,” Martinez told reporters. “It’s just about consistency with him, every five days, but hey, he’s made some unbelievable strides, he really has. So we’re hoping that next year he gets even a little bit better and he gets to be on the All-Star team, I always say, at the end of the year, which is the one you really want to make.”

“He’s done really well though, I’m proud of him,” Martinez added.

“He goes out there and he competes, and he’s a heck of a competitor, so we’re looking forward to getting him back here again and fresh and getting him ready for Spring Training.”

Acknowledging how early it is in Gray’s career, the sixth-year skipper said the starter is in the process of defining himself as a big league starter and establishing his identity in the big leagues.

“We talk to him a lot about his identity, and what he wants to do,” Martinez said, “... but he’s always trying to figure out how to get better. So, I don’t want to take away one thing to add something else, but I really want him to understand he’s got to do a better job of pitching with his fastball, and throwing his fastball for strikes. If he can do that, everything else works really well.”

“He’s got to be able to attack — the problem — he falls behind, when he falls behind then all of a sudden he’s got to be forced to throw the ball over the plate,” the manager added.

“He needs to work ahead. And the biggest key, when he does that he pitches well.”

There were plenty of positives for Gray overall, but he’s critical of himself, and something of a perfectionist, so Martinez was asked before the starter’s final outing what he’d point to as the positives for the right-hander to focus on over the winter as he assesses his season and looks to build on what he’s done so far in his career.

“We talk to him about understanding, ‘Hey, you did some really good things this year, you really have, and you improved,’” Martinez said. “He understands that, hey, he can pitch here and do really well. But he’s going to try to go this winter and really get better. And we talk a lot about improving his mechanics a little bit and like I said, really honing in on trying to throw strike one on his fastball and getting ahead with his fastball, and being able to use it as a weapon.

“He took that to heart, I know he’s going to work this winter on getting better.”

Gray lowered his ERA on the year from 4.00 to 3.91 with six strong against the Orioles in the first of two in Baltimore this week (down from his 5.02 ERA in 2022), finishing the year with a 4.94 FIP (down from 5.86), 143 strikeouts (8.09 K/9; down from 9.32), 80 walks (4.53 BB/9, up from 4.00), 22 home runs allowed (1.25 HR/9, down from 2.30), and a .251/.345/.412 line against in his 30 starts and 159 IP (after he got up to 148 23 IP in 2022, with a .239/.324/.489 line against on the year).

Gray said after the final outing of the season he was happy to finish strong, and go into the offseason on a positive note, having put up a 2.95 ERA, a 4.95 FIP, and a .241/.322/.430 line against in four starts and 21 13 IP in September.

“I think any time you can finish on a strong outing, it takes you into the offseason with a positive mindset,” Gray told reporters in Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

“I’ve been able to have a last couple good outings,” he continued, “... 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 breeded results. So I can focus on those things, and look forward to the offseason being positive and getting back after it next year.”

Though he finished strong, Gray did struggle overall in the second half of the 2023 season, with a 3.41 ERA, a 4.76 FIP, 47 walks (4.22 BB/9), 92 Ks (8.25 K/9), and a .253/.339/.415 line against in 18 starts and 100 13 IP before the All-Star break, and then a 4.76 ERA, 5.24 FIP, 33 walks (5.06 BB/9), 51 Ks (7.82 K/9), and a .248/.355/.405 line against in 12 starts and 58 23 IP in the so-called second half of the year, after he’d represented the club as an All-Star for the first time in July.

“It’s been a crazy season,” Gray said.

“Obviously being named an All-Star is something I never dreamed of and being able to go out there and succeed, and just to be in that environment was surreal. And then to struggle after the break was also something that was tough. Can’t really put it into words. You know, it made kind of like [question], ‘Man, what am I doing here? Where are things going?’

“So, to be able to rebound from that, obviously with the confidence of my teammates, the confidence of the staff, it means a lot, it keeps you going out there working every day to know that brighter days are ahead.

“This year, it’s been a good year,” Gray added. “But I know there’s a lot more work to be done.”

The next step for the starter, his manager said, is to repeat what he was able to do against the Orioles each time he takes the mound. In a word, consistency.

“What you saw today,” Martinez explained after Gray’s the start against the O’s, “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.”

The starter was on the same page in his post game comments.

“I think tonight summed up the pitcher I can be,” Gray told reporters. “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.”

“He’s still young,” Martinez said. “He’s still learning. 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.”

“It was another good step in his development,” Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies on Wednesday morning, looking back at the season for the starter the Nationals got from the Dodgers in the deadline deal which sent both Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to LA all the way back in 2021.

“He realizes the walks are a critical part of his success and he needs to improve on that, but he has improved on that a little bit. He has, obviously, improved on his home run ratio, and his stuff is better, his poise is better, he attacks the strike zone. He’s got some swing-and-miss pitches. So he’s made a great transition. It was a good growing year for him.”

“Thirty starts,” Rizzo added. “He made it through the season at 30 starts, and we’re hoping next year he just takes it and runs with it and pitches that 180-200 innings and we don’t have to monitor him, we don’t have to worry about him, we don’t have to do anything just give him the ball every five days and let him roll.”