After up-and-down rookie year, Gray looks to take next step

PLAYER REVIEW: JOSIAH GRAY

Age on opening day 2022: 24

How acquired: Traded with Keibert Ruiz, Gerardo Carrillo and Donovan Casey from Dodgers for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner, July 2021

MLB service time: 75 days

2021 salary: $570,500

Contract status: Under team control, arbitration-eligible in 2025, free agent in 2028

2021 stats (LA/WSH): 2-2, 5.48 ERA, 14 G, 13 GS, 0 CG, 70 2/3 IP, 63 H, 44 R, 43 ER, 19 HR, 33 BB, 76 SO, 2 HBP, 1.358 WHIP, 75 ERA+, 6.00 FIP, 0.0 fWAR, minus-0.3 bWAR

Quotable: “I kind of hit a point where I was like, I’m going out there with not the right confidence that I’ve always had. Just restoring that, restoring the mental strength, was really, really important to me to sort of build myself back up to where I’m here. I’m going to be the big man on that mound. I’m going to go and get guys out.” - Gray, following his last start of the season

Gray-Delivers-Red-Sidebar.jpg2021 analysis: The first of the 12 players the Nationals acquired at the trade deadline to make his debut for them, Josiah Gray came to D.C. having made two recent appearances for the Dodgers. He quickly established a base line for himself with his new organization with five consecutive impressive starts in which he produced a 2.89 ERA and totaled five or six innings every time.

Then came a rough patch that took a lot of the sheen off the paint. During a stretch of four starts, Gray produced a ghastly 11.42 ERA, putting an average of more than two runners on base in each inning while surrendering a home run every three frames. The rookie right-hander bounced back, though, and finished strong with three outings that (like his earlier stretch) never saw him allow more than three runs while lasting at least five innings each time.

The end results were season totals that didn’t look all that great, but individual starts within it that were far more impressive. Maybe most important about Gray’s late return to form was his ability to limit both home runs (only one allowed over his final 17 1/3 innings) and walks (only six allowed in that same span). He also emerged with the first two big league wins of his career.

2022 outlook: There’s no question Gray fits into the Nationals’ rotation plans entering next season, in a big way. He’s not the staff ace, but he’s going to hold a prominent position as the organization hopes to see him start to establish some consistency from outing to outing.

Gray needs to pick up where he left off in late September and keep both his walk and his home run rates down. That’s what killed him more than anything this season. He can do that by establishing his fastball early, getting ahead in the count, then turning to his array of off-speed pitches to put hitters away.

Gray is the rare pitcher who effectively throws both a curveball and a slider. Hitters had far less success against those pitches than his fastball or his changeup, batting just .172 off the curveball and .192 off the slider. He tended to rely on one of the two in any particular outing, whichever was working better. In an ideal world, he’ll start to have both working at the same time and really confuse hitters.

Because of the circumstances of his acquisition, Gray came to the Nats with some lofty expectations attached to his name and with extra attention thrust upon every one of his starts. He seemed to handle all this quite well, but we have to remember he remains quite inexperienced. He only began pitching full-time at LeMoyne College in 2018 and totaled only 182 1/3 minor league innings before making his major league debut this summer.

The Nationals can afford to let Gray fail some at the big league level without him needing to look over his shoulder and worry about a demotion. The hope is that by the end of the 2022 season, he and they won’t even need to think about such a possibility because he’s firmly established himself as a key piece of the club’s long-term pitching plans.

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