WASHINGTON -- Josiah Gray took the mound for the first time in a Nationals uniform on Monday, ready to make his second MLB start and his first sporting a curly W. As the Nats work to fill the holes left in their starting rotation following their numerous moves leading up to Friday’s Trade Deadline, Gray’s performance was a positive sign.
In the 7-5 series-opening loss, Gray had back-to-back three-up, three-down innings to start the game, as he was able to work ahead in the count against a majority of the opposing batters.
“It's definitely something I tell myself before every inning,” Gray said regarding throwing first-pitch strikes. “I want to reiterate that into my mind, into my mindset. Just going out there, getting strike one. When I get strike one, things are gonna get a lot easier for me.”
Relying on his curveball, the Nationals starter worked out of a jam in the third frame with runners on the corners to deliver a third scoreless inning.
Gray's first time through the order, he held the Phillies to a single and a sac bunt, carrying his scoreless streak into the fifth inning.
“I felt pretty comfortable throughout the whole outing,” Gray said. “Just from pitch one to my last pitch, nerves didn't really get to me. … I felt comfortable. I felt like my stuff was pretty good. I felt like it could be better, which it will be better, continue to get better. I think there's a lot of room to grow.”
Manager Dave Martinez followed Gray's lead in his first start, noting that the young pitcher already shows a high level of maturity. The plan was for the righty to be in constant communication with his skipper, letting Martinez know how he was feeling between innings -- within reason, Martinez joked before the game.
After Gray tossed 71 pitches (47 for strikes), his Nats debut was over. He gave up just one run -- a solo home run to Odúbel Herrera in the fifth -- on four hits and two walks.
“When I told him he was done, he [kind of] looked at me like, ‘Hey,’” said Martinez. “I said, ‘Hey, you're done.’ He gets it. He understands. I liked the fact that he wanted to go back out there."
Gray hasn’t yet earned the ability to push for an extra inning, though not many pitchers have. Except maybe one that comes to mind.
The Nats' newest starter was a key piece in the return from the Dodgers in exchange for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner -- the team was drawn to Gray's fastball, which averages 94-95 mph. Gray isn’t trying to fill the hole that was left in the rotation, and he said half-jokingly that the shoes Scherzer left were too big, anyway.
“Oh, electric,” catcher Tres Barrera said about working with Gray. “That's the reason why we got him. I knew he was going to have a live arm. He's here for a reason. You trade for a guy like Max Scherzer, you know you're gonna get something really, really special in return. He looked great, he commanded all of his pitches. It was actually really fun to work with him today.”
However, the bullpen couldn’t hold on, giving up five runs in the top of the ninth inning. Wander Suero allowed back-to-back singles, followed by an RBI double. Two more RBI singles came from the middle of the Phillies' order before the inning ended.