PITTSBURGH -- There is thinking about having a successful outing, and then there is overthinking it. Josiah Gray pointed to the latter as a career-high in walks crept into his 10th Major League start on Saturday in the Nationals’ 10-7 loss to the Pirates at PNC Park, where both teams also commemorated the events of Sept. 11, 2001, in a pregame ceremony.
“There are some times when I overthink and I try to be way too perfect,” Gray said. “And then nights like tonight happen where I have six walks.”
After struggling in his past two outings -- 12 runs over seven innings -- Gray was seeking better command and execution. But he delivered only 54 of his 100 pitches for strikes, and he issued those six walks -- the most in a single game by a Nats pitcher this season. Gray finished the night having allowed three hits, two homers and five runs while recording four strikeouts.
“[I was] just thinking too much out there on the mound,” Gray said. “I think a lot of the walks, those at-bats started 1-0, 2-0, 2-1 sometimes, so just getting behind early, having to play catch-up in those at-bats. Obviously, you have to be a little finer when you’re behind in counts, and I got way too behind today. I think I threw 55 percent strikes, something like that -- incredibly bad.”
Gray was pleased with his execution and location in the first two innings before the game got ahead of him in the third when the Pirates put a pair of runs on the board. Looking back, he would have taken a moment to slow the game down and regain his footing.
“Tonight, it sped up on me and I was like, ‘Man, how do I stop this? How do I stop this?’” Gray said. “Then thinking about, ‘Where’s my arm here? Where’s my body here?’ instead of going out and just throwing the ball in the strike zone. That’s kind of what tonight was, and it’s going to be something I fix by just getting back to the basics and being completely confident in my abilities in what I can do, because I’ve done it before. My first five starts, I showed I can do it at this level, so it’s not about trying to find it. I know it’s in there. It’s just going through a little rut right now.”
Gray, 23, sought to get back on track after a three-inning, six-run start on Sunday against the Mets. Between outings, the Nationals worked with Gray to focus on his mechanics, including his arm slot, and they used a slow-motion camera to visually break down his pitches. Manager Dave Martinez had hoped a good bullpen session would translate into Saturday’s performance. Gray dropped to 0-3 with a 6.00 ERA this season.
“It’s the same issue,” Martinez said after the game. “A few times, he was able to stay closed off and throw strikes, pound the strike zone. A lot of times, he just [flew] open -- you saw the arm-side misses, the breaking-ball misses. We’ve got to get him consistent with his mechanics. When he does that, he’s going to be good.”
A student of the game, Gray already is eyeing how he can improve this offseason. During a recent series in Citi Field, he met Mets starter Marcus Stroman, one of his favorite players, and they discussed possibly working together this winter.
“It’s going to be a learning process where we can get him consistently doing the right thing over and over again, each and every pitch,” Martinez said. “But hey, he’s a bright kid. He wants to learn, he’s open to learn, he’s open for suggestions, so we’re going to keep working with him.
“Sky’s the limit for Josiah -- it really is -- and I’m proud of the way he comes out every day and does his business … He’s going to get it. He’s part of our future, and he’s going to help us win a lot of games.”