Gray throws another live BP, Cavalli making another rehab start tonight

ATLANTA – Josiah Gray threw another live bullpen session today, one more step closer to returning from the 15-day injured list.

Gray landed on the IL with a right elbow/forearm flexor strain after just two starts in which he allowed 13 runs in 8 ⅓ innings. But after a long and patient rehab process, he finally returned to a mound to face live hitters for the first time on Saturday at Nationals Park.

He only threw 23 pitches, plus 27 warmup pitches, that first time. He got up to 76 today, including his warmups, at Truist Park while mixing in his off-speed stuff more.

“It was good. Better,” said manager Davey Martinez, who watched Gray alongside pitching coach Jim Hickey. “He threw a total of 76 pitches. And he threw the ball well. His breaking ball was sharp. A lot better today than it was the other day. Fastball was coming out pretty good. So he's doing good. He's in a good place right now. We'll continue to build him up and then we'll see where we go from there. I think he'll have one more live and then we'll make a decision and what we're going to do next.”

Likely to stay on a normal five-day rotation, the 26-year-old’s next live BP will come next week back in D.C. after the Nationals return from Cleveland.

The sharp breaking ball is a really good development for the right-hander. He had been mostly throwing fastballs as he ramped up to live bullpen sessions. He also said after his first one that he had a feel for his changeup, but not so much for his breaking balls.

So why was it better today?

“More out front and finishing,” Martinez said. “I was sitting behind him and I was kind of telling a couple of times what to throw. I wanted him to throw for strikes early and he was doing that really well. His changeup was way better today finishing. So he looked really good.”

The Nationals have been fortunate in this process in that there hasn’t been a need to rush Gray back to the rotation. Nationals starters have pitched to a 2.36 ERA (11 earned runs in 42 innings) with 52 strikeouts and just five walks while going 3-1 over the last seven games.

But that doesn’t make Martinez want Gray back on the mound any less.

“I'd love to get him back and get him competing again,” the skipper said. “But our rotation is pitching well and it gives us flexibility to kind of slow him down a little bit. But I want to see him back with us and get him into games again to compete. He's a big part of our success, so we want to get him back in there. But I'm proud of the way our guys are pitching. Our starters are pitching really well and it's good to see them doing as well as they're doing. But Josiah is going to be on that mound again here soon.”

* Cade Cavalli is, in fact, making his next rehab start with High-A Wilmington tonight in Bowling Green, KY. The 25-year-old right-hander is expected to throw around 50 pitches and hopefully complete four innings.

Cavalli, still on his way back from last year’s Tommy John surgery, made his first rehab start last week with the Florida Complex League Nationals. He threw a bullpen Sunday before flying to meet the Blue Rocks in Kentucky. Even though it will be over a week in between rehab starts, the Nationals want to keep him on a five- or six-day starter’s schedule, which is tough when the minor league schedule provides off-days every Monday.

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