Avila gets start in hometown, chance to help Gray

Alex Avila’s three starts behind the plate this month all came with Patrick Corbin on the mound, a calculated move by Nationals manager Davey Martinez in hopes the veteran catcher could get the left-hander out of a long funk.

Tonight, Avila will be behind the plate again, this time tasked with helping rookie Josiah Gray turn things around after a ragged stretch.

“I’m just curious to see how it all plays out,” Martinez said during his pregame Zoom session with reporters, adding: “The veteran presence of Alex with a young pitcher might have JoJo see things differently.”

Each of Gray’s nine previous starts with the Nationals came with a rookie catcher serving as his batterymate. Riley Adams has caught him four times, Keibert Ruiz three times and Tres Barrera twice. His first five outings went splendidly, resulting in a 2.89 ERA and 1.107 WHIP. Things have taken a dramatic downward turn since, though, and over his last four starts Gray has an 11.42 ERA and 1.962 WHIP.

Avila-Rounds-Third-Gray-Sidebar.jpgWhether Avila will be able to make a positive difference or not remains to be seen. But Martinez does hope his experience and calming demeanor help guide Gray through this outing in Miami, especially during any moments when things have the potential to get out of hand.

“It kind of brings a little sense of relief,” Martinez said. “When you get these young pitchers, they go out there and they’ve got so much energy. This is why Alex is so good. If you’ve known Alex like I’ve known him, he’s a very low-energy guy, but understands what he needs to do. He can calm anybody down, and that’s one of the things I love about him. When things start speeding up on pitchers, he knows how to slow them down.”

There are, of course, sentimental reasons to find playing time for Avila down the stretch. The 34-year-old announced last weekend he intends to retire at season’s end, capping a 13-year career with six different clubs.

And tonight marks the Nationals’ final game this season in Miami, where Avila lives. He is expected to have a large number of family members and friends in attendance at loanDepot Park.

“I don’t know how many tickets he left today, but he left a lot,” Martinez said. “And honestly, it all worked out well. The matchup with him playing against (Marlins starter Elieser Hernandez), I liked. And the fact that I wanted him to catch JoJo today worked out as well.”

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