Gray shows confidence in his curve against lefty-heavy Dbacks

Josiah Gray

WASHINGTON — Josiah Gray faced a task Tuesday he had never seen before in his baseball career. The Arizona Diamondbacks started a lineup against him stacked with nine hitters that were either left-handed or switch-hitters, giving themselves a platoon advantage in every at-bat.

The right-hander responded by presenting the Diamondbacks with a steady dose of fastballs and curveballs, striking out eight batters over five-and-a-third innings of one-run baseball in the Nationals’ 6-1 win to open their doubleheader. Gray rarely throws sliders — his most highly regarded breaking ball as a prospect — against lefties, so the lack of right-handers left him no choice but to lean on the curve.

“From learning it in 2019 to using it the last two years and now this year, it’s become a real weapon for me along with my slider, changeup and fastball,” Gray said after the game. “I throw it to both hitters and I think today was a really good weapon. They stacked nine lefties so obviously it would be my go-to offspeed offering but yeah, it’s been great and I think it’s only going to get better.”

Still a relatively new pitch for Gray, the curveball is key to his development into a reliable starter for the Nationals. Manager Davey Martinez is looking for him to throw it for strikes, and he did just that Tuesday. Of Gray’s 32 curveballs, 17 were thrown for strikes and the Diamondbacks whiffed on six of their eight swings against it. They managed just one hit off the pitch: a single by outfielder Jake McCarthy.


“He’s getting better,” Martinez said. “The biggest thing when he throws it is he’s gotta throw it for strikes. I don’t know if you guys could remember, he threw a lot of short ones earlier and we told him, ‘If you’re gonna throw it, you gotta throw it for strikes and you gotta throw it early in the count.’ I like when he throws it early in the count, especially on certain hitters. He did that well today.”

Gray has posted two straight impressive outings, lowering his season ERA to 3.14. The next step will be for him to go deeper into games. Martinez pulled him one out into the sixth inning Tuesday with the 24-year-old sitting at 87 pitches, 50 of which were strikes.

After he missed a couple of months last season with a shoulder injury prior to being traded by the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Nationals have held Gray to fewer than 90 pitches for each of his first three starts. Though he’s built up to throw 100+ pitches, Martinez opted to take him out citing the cold weather and a desire for him to leave the game feeling good about his outing.

The Diamondbacks’ light-hitting offense wasn’t very potent a threat, but the strong results with his curveball will give both Gray and the Nationals confidence going into his next start against the San Francisco Giants, another lefty-heavy lineup, this weekend.