Washington Nationals: Josiah Gray Dominated Month Of June

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 13: Josiah Gray #40 of the Washington Nationals pitches in the first inning against the Atlanta Braves at Nationals Park on August 13, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 13: Josiah Gray #40 of the Washington Nationals pitches in the first inning against the Atlanta Braves at Nationals Park on August 13, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images) /
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The Washington Nationals have been in drastic need of an ace and Gray has finally started to live up to the unfair expectations placed over his head.

Josiah Gray may no longer have the longest active scoreless streak, but the 24-year-old put an exclamation point over his impressive June. Saturday against the Rangers, he threw a career-high seven innings, while allowing only two runs, walking one, and striking out nine.

Both runs came on a Nathaniel Lowe two-run homer — the only bad pitch Gray threw all day and he responded by ending his outing with 5 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings. Unfortunately, the Nats’ offense was kept in check and he picked up a no-decision in a 3-2 loss.

Gray’s success stemmed from mixing up his pitches. On the season, he throws his fastball 44% of the time, but only used it 29% of the time against Texas. Instead, he went against the scouting report opponents had on him — mixing in more and more breaking balls including his slider that was nearly untouchable. In fact, all nine of his strikeouts came from either his slider (five) or curve (4).

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that his slider has become such an efficient part of his arsenal. Per Jesse Doughtery of The Washington Post:

"“Gray entered Saturday with a whiff rate of 46.6 percent on sliders, ranking seventh among pitchers who have thrown 200 or more this season. When a batter swings at Gray’s slider in 2022, he is missing close to half the time.”"

Josiah Gray Caps Off An Impressive Month Of June

It would be near impossible for anyone to replace franchise icon Max Scherzer — especially someone who only had eight MLB innings under his belt. But when Gray arrived in D.C., the fanbase and those upset by the trade expected immediate results from the righty. Naturally, that didn’t occur with Gray struggling in his first season with the Nats. He showed promise, racking up the strikeouts, but often found himself overwhelmed  — posting a 5.31 ERA, with 63 strikeouts in 12 starts.

Fast forward to this season and Gray has continued to find himself plagued by the long ball (he’s allowed 33 homers in 27 career appearances). Yet, over the month of June, Gray has been one of the best pitchers in the majors. Amongst all starters this month, he’s second in ERA, third in opponents batting average (.149), fourth in runners left on base (LOB%) (93.8%), 10th in WHIP (0.88), and 15th in K/9 (10.50).

In his four starts this month, Grayis 1-0, with a 1.13 ERA, 28 strikeouts, and a 2.99 FIP.  At one point, he threw 18 consecutive scoreless innings. He has lowered his season ERA from 5.08 to 3.82.

Gray’s resurgence can be pinpointed back to his start against the Dodgers on May 24. They tagged him for seven runs across three innings (tying the shortest outing of his career) in a 9-4 loss. In his very next start against the Rockies, he responded with five innings of one-run ball.

A competitor, Gray looked forward to facing the Dodgers for the first time since they traded him and was devastated he wasn’t able to come out on top. Since then, he’s looked like a completely different pitcher.

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