The Nationals won a game Wednesday, a feat that’s proven difficult for the rebuilding club as it’s spent a majority of the first six weeks of the 2022 season in the NL East basement. But far more important than the result of an individual game were the performances from a pair of young players the Nationals hope will be key building blocks for their future.
Josiah Gray and Keibert Ruiz were the headliners of the Nationals’ blockbuster trade deadline deal that sent Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to the Los Angeles Dodgers last summer. The young battery has flashed plenty of the potential that made them consensus top 100 prospects and the latest evidence showed through Wednesday.
Facing the Miami Marlins, Gray tossed a quality start with three runs allowed on six hits, no walks and seven strikeouts over six innings. He gave up one home run but worked his way out of a few jams and struck out the final four hitters he faced. The right-hander’s most effective pitch of the night was his slider, which generated an impressive 15 whiffs on 27 swings.
“It was by design,” Martinez said of Gray’s slider usage during his postgame press conference, as aired on MASN. “Honestly, with that team [and] and the right-handed hitters, try to pump one for a strike and then use your fastball up and then go back to your slider and they did it well tonight.”
Ruiz turned in his best performance of the season at the plate as well. The switch-hitting catcher reached base five times with a pair of doubles, two walks and a single. His final hit was a go-ahead two-bagger in the top of the 10th inning that gave Washington the 5-4 victory.
“I cannot say enough about Keibert,” Martinez said. “What a tremendous game he had, honestly. Behind the plate, hitting, everything…and he’s getting better. Every time he’s out there, he’s getting better.
“What they’ve been working on is you’re seeing him starting to get more walks. He’s starting to stay on top of the baseball. He’s hitting balls over the field, which is great. But his catching, his game-calling, his blocking, everything has gotten so much better and I’m so happy for him that he had a game like that today.”
While the Nationals’ 13-26 start has been chockfull of lowlights, particularly on defense, two of the most promising developments out of D.C. have been the production of Gray and Ruiz.
Gray exited his start Wednesday with a 4.36 ERA and 1.269 WHIP across eight starts to begin the season. Both numbers represent a step forward from his rookie campaign and the Nationals hope he will continue trending in that direction as he establishes himself in the majors.
Ruiz, meanwhile, raised his OPS to .726 with his big day. The only qualified catchers with a higher mark this year are Willson Contreras (.870) and Daulton Varsho (.775). Heralded as a prospect for his defensive profile, the 23-year-old has thrown out eight baserunners for a 47% caught stealing percentage — both the best in baseball.
Wins like the one the Nationals picked up in Miami on Wednesday may be a rare occurrence, but continued steps forward out of players like Gray and Ruiz can still make the 2021 season a successful one in the long run for Washington.