When you look at the stat sheet for Josiah Gray’s rookie season in 2021, the numbers certainly aren’t pretty. Between 14 starts with the Nats and Dodgers, he had a 5.48 ERA, 6.00 FIP, and gave up 19 HR in just 70.2 innings. While Gray did have some good starts in 2021, including a 10-strikeout performance against the would-be World Series champion Braves, he was extremely raw and did not always have results go his way. He showed his electric slider/curveball combo, but his fastball was getting shelled, and he would often miss with his pitches over the heart of the plate. As you might expect, this led to the high amount of home runs surrendered.
Three starts into the 2022 season, however, the 24-year-old right-hander is looking like he is taking some strides forward when it comes to his development at the Major League level. There are a lot of key things to point out that can be attributed to his success so far this year. That isn’t to say there are still a few growing pains involved, but the signs have been positive, and his last start was especially encouraging. Let’s go in depth start-by-start this year:
First Start: April 8th vs NYM
Line: 4.0 IP 8 H 4 R 4 ER 2 BB 1 HR 5 K
On paper, this obviously might not look like the greatest start in the world. But it was a stepping stone to go off of, and it was really only 2 bad innings that got to Josiah in this start. In the first inning, Gray had a 1-2-3 inning including 2 Ks. Second inning? Same thing: retired the side in order with 2 strikeouts. The third inning, however, is where Gray started to run out of gas. He gave up 2 singles and a homer (solo shot). Not horrible, but this is where you could start to see the signs that he was running out of gas. And it started to unfold on him in the fourth, as he led off that inning with a walk to Lindor and then gave up a double, 2 singles, and walked another batter. This allowed the Mets to score and take a 3-1 lead. Gray was then left in for the 5th, and he finished his night getting pulled after surrendering back-to-back extra base hits. So again, not a great outing on paper as he only went 4 innings and gave up 4 runs, but his stuff was there in the first 2 innings and he was getting plenty of whiffs, but he simply just couldn’t keep his stamina intact to go deep enough. I feel this can be attributed to a late start in Spring Training and his arm not being built up enough yet, so this start feels most like the outlier to me out of the 3. The biggest positive: only 1 home run was surrendered in this start, whereas in 2021 he would typically be due for multiple.
Second Start: April 13th vs ATL
Line: 5.0 IP 1 H 0 R 0 ER 3 BB 0 HR 5 K
This was the start that got Nats fans excited again for Gray’s potential that was advertised when the team acquired him in the blockbuster trade with the Dodgers. While he did walk 3 batters, he did an excellent job limiting misses over the heart of the plate and that was evidenced by giving up only a single hit. There was some hard contact at points, but Nats defenders were positioned perfectly. Josiah’s strikeout stuff was also there again, as he got a lot of Braves hitters to whiff at a high rate. 5 strong innings and 3 runs from the Nats offense led to Gray getting his first W of the season to cap off a series win against the Nats’ NL East rival. The only downside was that he did throw a lot of pitches, and that led to him getting pulled after 5. But again, fantastic start and about as great as you could’ve hoped in Gray’s second start of the year.
Third Start: April 13th vs ARI
Line: 5.1 IP 3 H 1 R 1 ER 2 BB 1 HR 8 K
Even though this was not a scoreless outing like his Atlanta start, this was easily Gray’s best start of the season yet. Mind you this was against a pretty lifeless Diamondbacks lineup, but you absolutely have to give credit where it’d due. 8 strikeouts is impressive no matter who you’re facing, and Josiah certainly had his A-stuff working in front of the crowd of 500 fans that were at this game. The single homer he gave up was not bad pitch location whatsoever, as it was exactly where Keibert Ruiz was set up high and away, it was just a better swing by the hitter. While he still did not complete 6 innings, he was much more efficient in this start, and he was pulled at only 87 pitches after going 5.1 innings and probably could have finished the inning before getting pulled. But this start was the biggest step forward for Gray, and he picked up his second W of the year in only his third start.
In summary, let’s hope Gray can continue to build off these performances and continue to work through the growing pains, as we all know how much the Nats NEED to develop a long-term rotation piece. Gray’s development is crucial to their rebuild, and they must do everything they can to help him reach his high ceiling.