Friday night's Nationals game was set up to be a pitching duel as it was Josiah Gray for the Nationals and Merrill Kelly for the Diamondbacks. Gray entered the contest having gone his last five outings pitching at least 5 innings and allowing 2 runs or less, including a 6 inning shuout against the New York Mets. Kelly was in a similar situation as he also had gone at least 5 innings in each of his last 5 starts and his most recent start was a 6 inning, 1 run performance in a win against the Colorado Rockies.
The Nats jumped out early as Luis Garcia took a 2-0 fastball deep to left field off Merrill Kelly for a 1st inning homerun. The longball was Garcia's third of the season and he went 2 for 4 on Friday night.
Aside from the first inning homerun, the Nationals were exceptionally quiet on offense while Merrill Kelly had by far his best performance of the season. Kelly would go 7 innings allowing just the one run on 4 hits with a walk and 10 strikeouts. He kept the Nationals off-balance all night long following the homerun.
Josiah Gray is a stranger to run support and unfortunately found himself in a similar situation on Friday night. Gray was not his usual self, as he was missing over the middle more often than you'd like to see and especially so with two strikes. The Diamondbacks made him pay for it too as they tallied 7 hits off Gray in 5 innings of work, including a Corbin Caroll homerun, which was Gray's first homerun allowed since his start on April 11th in Anaheim. Gray also had a throwing error on a tough play that contributed to two additional runs scoring in the 4th inning. In total, Gray went 5 innings allowing 3 runs on 7 hits with 2 walks and 6 strikeouts.
Gray wasn't sharp, but he was good enough generally speaking. He continues to demonstrate that even when he's not on his A game like in the Mets series, he can pitch competitively and keep his team in the ballgame. His slider lacked its usual bite, something that experts saw coming with the addition of the cutter. The pitches tend to blur together and both lose their effectiveness.
Gray also relied on his 4 seam fastball more than he has in recent starts. The pitch graded as one of the worst in baseball last season, but the addition of the cutter and reduced usage of the fastball has increased its effectiveness a bit. Gray also reached back and hit 96 mph on his fastball, which was a season high. Surprisingly, Gray did not rely on his curveball much in the game when it appeared to be his most effective offspeed pitch.
All in all, it was a quiet night for the Nationals. Even the social media team for the Nats only had two tweets about the game: the Luis Garcia homerun and the final score, 3 to 1.
Erasmo Ramirez and Hobie Harris pitched 3 scoreless, hitless innings in relief, showing that they should not be predisposed to a "B bullpen" role. They'll need to continue to pitch this way to show they can pitch in high leverage situations.
The offense was pretty dreadul outside Luis Garcia. They struck out 12 times as a team to just one walk, a four pitch walk. They also only had two runners in scoring position all game long and were 0 for 2 in that situation. They'll need to wake up before their next game if MacKenzie Gore hopes to have a shot at the win.