Gray earns first Opening Day start of career

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Josiah Gray first pitched in a big league camp in the spring of 2020, a 22-year-old prospect with the Dodgers who made it through only three appearances before he was sent down to the minors.

Gray was thinking about that the other day when Davey Martinez called him into his office and informed the now-26-year-old he will be starting Opening Day for the Nationals next week.

“Progress is probably the first word that comes to mind, because of how I’ve progressed through the league in the short amount of time I’ve been a major leaguer,” Gray said. “I just remember my first big league camp being with the Dodgers and getting cut, and thinking how that feeling was. And to say you’re going to be our first arm out of spring training going into the season is really cool and really surreal.”

Martinez had been leaning in this direction all winter, but the manager decided to wait to see how Gray fared this spring before making the official announcement today. In the end, the progress Gray displayed last season while earning his first All-Star selection and his continued development this spring was compelling.

“He’s matured so much since the first day I saw him,” Martinez said. “Even through the struggles of last year, he’s a lot different. Coming into camp, he’s been so much different as far as growth-wise. Understanding who he is, working on things he needs to work on, not trying to reinvent the wheel. He knows he needs to go out there and attack and throw strikes.

“He’s been a lot different this spring. I’m proud of him.”

Gray gets the nod for the March 28 assignment in Cincinnati over Patrick Corbin, who started Opening Day each of the last two seasons but will get the ball for the season’s second game this time. The rest of the rotation order will be announced later in camp.

Thus will Gray add his name to a list that hasn’t included many names in the last decade. He’ll be the first Opening Day starter for the Nationals not named Corbin, Max Scherzer or Stephen Strasburg since 2011, when Liván Hernández took the mound for his final season opener.

Consider this a ceremonial passing of the torch from the rotation that won the organization a World Series title to a new group of young pitchers that will try to lead the franchise back into October baseball.

“To me, for a young kid, it’s a big deal,” Martinez said. “Hopefully he goes out there – I know he’s welcomed it and he’s excited about it – and he goes out there and competes and we’re trying to go 1-0 that day.”

Gray will face a Reds organization that originally drafted him out of LeMoyne College in 2018 but dealt him to the Dodgers later that year. (He came to the Nats in July 2021 as part of the return for Scherzer and Trea Turner.)

Gray has pitched in Cincinnati before, holding the Reds to one earned run on two hits over six strong innings in June 2022. Only a handful of prospects he played alongside in that first year of professional baseball remain, but the assignment remains a special one for him.

“It’s going to be a fun moment,” he said. “Obviously, (it’s) the place I got drafted six years ago now. I think I’m going to really take it in.”

Gray is not necessarily viewed as the Nationals’ long-term ace. That title could eventually belong to MacKenzie Gore (who could start the April 1 home opener against the Pirates) or Cade Cavalli (who is entering the final stages of rehab from Tommy John surgery). But he was unquestionably the team’s best starter last season and worthy of this honor.

Though he finished with a disappointing 8-13 record and 3.91 ERA in 30 starts, Gray boasted an ERA as low as 3.27 entering August before enduring a brief late-season slump. He was named to the All-Star team in July and tossed a perfect 1-2-3 inning in his Midsummer Classic debut.

Now he can add a new honor to his career resume: Opening Day starter.

“Getting named to an All-Star Game was something I can say, again, I never expected,” Gray said. “But then to get the Opening Day nod, it shows the trust and the level of support I have from Davey, the front office and everyone that I’ve made progress from where I was in 2021 as a rookie to here we are in 2024. I’m really just looking forward to continuing to progress.”

Gore has "weird" start; Rutledge in latest round o...
Starting lineups: Nats vs. Mets in West Palm Beach

By accepting you will be accessing a service provided by a third-party external to