Gray working to escape sudden string of short starts

August 16th, 2023

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals made the call to the bullpen when Josiah Gray’s pitch count reached 83 with no outs and runners on first and second. But unlike starts earlier this season, this happened in the fourth inning.

Gray exited a 5-4 loss to the Red Sox on Tuesday night at Nationals Park after allowing five runs on five hits  (one home run) and three walks while recording four strikeouts across three-plus frames. It was Gray’s shortest start of the season, and it was just the third start of his career in which he’s been unable to record an out in the fourth inning.

“He’s just relying on too many secondary pitches,” said manager Dave Martinez. “He’s got to get in that attack zone again.”

Gray’s recent span of early exits is one which he and the Nats are looking to turn around. Since spinning seven innings on July 22 against the Giants and six frames vs. the Mets on July 27, Gray threw 3 2/3 innings versus the Brewers on Aug. 1 and 4 2/3 innings at the Phillies on Aug. 8, before his even shorter outing vs. Boston.

“I think it’s just pitching,” said Gray. “The year’s been the year; there’s some good starts, some bad starts, some OK starts. I think the last three have been self-inflicted damage, more or less -- just one pitch away, but not getting out of those jams.”

Gray began the night by allowing a leadoff home run to Alex Verdugo off a slider in the zone. He went on to deliver a mix of seven pitches throughout the evening, leaning most heavily on his curveball (29%), followed by sinker (22%), cutter (20%), four-seam fastball (13%), slider (8%), sweeper (4%) and changeup (4%).

“The command with the fastball just hasn’t been there,” said Martinez. “He’s trying to rely on too many secondary pitches. He gets behind and then he just loses the plate there. [We’ve] got to get him to understand that the use of his fastball has got to be a lot better. When he’s really good, he throws the fastball down for strikes, it’s got some run to it, and then he can go to his secondary pitches. But his pitch count is getting way up there.”

Gray noted the challenges he faced in his second career start against the Interleague opponent.

“They had a good approach,” he said. “They were not swinging and missing much. They were laying off some good pitches and spoiling some good pitches. So, hats off to them for their approach. You kind of just have to dig deep and kind of think of a new way to get them out. I wasn’t able to think that quickly on my feet today, unfortunately.”

Gray, 25, is a student of the game. For as much work as he will put in before his next start, Martinez would also like him to tap into the strengths that have propelled him this far.

“Sometimes he’s just got to go out there and put everything aside and just attack the hitters and just pound the zone,” Martinez said. “His stuff is good. I mean, his stuff is really good. You don’t get to this point -- especially this being an All-Star and everything -- not having good stuff. The command right now is a little bit of an issue, but I know that he can turn that around. But he’s got to trust his fastball, start using it more and throw it over the plate.”

Gray is on schedule to take the mound next at Yankee Stadium next Tuesday. He is 4-4 with a sparkling 2.82 ERA in 14 starts on the road this season.

“I know things will turn for me,” Gray said. “I don’t want to say it’s a trend, but it’s just pitching. You’re going to have some good outings, some bad outings. And unfortunately the last three weren’t good, but I can turn the page next week against the Yankees and start a new trend for myself. I’m not going to really overthink them. I think it’s just part of pitching, you have to be able to dig deep through these sorts of ruts. And I’m going to do that and work with the guys and get better for the next one.”