WASHINGTON — Tuesday’s start wasn’t just another outing for Josiah Gray.
The Nationals’ right-hander was facing the Los Angeles Dodgers, the same club that traded him to Washington at the deadline last summer. Gray had been one of the key prospects in a blockbuster trade before, but Tuesday was the first time he had the chance to go up against a team that decided to move on without him.
Right away, the Dodgers jumped on Gray. They tagged him for two runs in the first inning, three in the second and another two in the third to cut his start short at just 80 pitches. All seven of the runs Los Angeles scored on him came on home runs, including a two-run shot by shortstop Trea Turner — one of the very players the Dodgers traded him for.
“There were a lot of emotions, honestly,” Gray said after the game. “Being traded twice already, I guess this was my first opportunity to prove myself against a former team. So obviously I let the emotions get ahead of me and didn’t control them from the first pitch on but yeah, the emotions were there, kind of just wanting to prove to them like, ‘Hey, you guys are missing out.’”
Gray got his first taste of the business of baseball while in the Cincinnati Reds’ minor-league system. Just six months after taking him in the second round of the 2018 MLB Draft, the Reds shipped Gray along with Homer Bailey and Jeter Downs off to Los Angeles in a deal that netted Cincinnati a package of Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood and Kyle Farmer.
Three years later, Gray was traded again only 10 days after making his major-league debut. The Nationals acquired him, catcher Keibert Ruiz, outfielder Donovan Casey and pitcher Gerardo Carrillo from the Dodgers for Turner and Max Scherzer, who hit free agency the following offseason. Gray has since become a permanent fixture in the Nationals’ rotation as the club attempts to rebuild its organization back into a playoff contender.
The Dodgers looked the part of a World Series favorite against Gray, who allowed five hits and three walks while striking out five.
“Didn’t execute well tonight,” Nationals manager Davey Martinez said of Gray. “It could’ve been a little bit he was amped up facing his old team but coming into the series we know about the Dodgers, they walk and they hit homers. If you look at what they did: he walked, home run, walk, home run, hit batter, walk, home run. His pitch count got high. We were hoping to get a little bit more out of him because our bullpen has been pitching a lot but I’m not gonna send him out there with 80 pitches after three anymore.”
While Gray didn’t get the results he was looking for against his former club, Ruiz bounced back from his 0-4 showing in the series opener to go 2-4 with a run scored and a stolen base. Batting second in the Nationals’ lineup, the young backstop didn’t try to put too much pressure on facing the team that signed him out of Venezuela.
“It was a little emotional,” Ruiz said after the game Monday, as translated by interpreter Octavio Martinez. “I had been with them since I could remember playing baseball, about six [or] seven years that I came up playing it was with them and it’s a little emotional seeing familiar faces obviously and wanted to thank them for the opportunity they gave me to play this sport. But after that, it’s a game.”
The Nationals play the Dodgers one more time Wednesday before opening up a four-game series with the Colorado Rockies on Thursday. After that, they travel to take on the New York Mets for three before a four-game stretch in Cincinnati. Gray is tentatively on track to start one of the games in that series, giving him another chance at a revenge game.
“I think that’s just the type of player I am in being slighted, I guess you can say, since I’ve been in pro ball I’ve wanted to prove my former organizations wrong and [that] they traded a guy that is gonna work his butt off,” Gray said. “Unfortunately, today didn’t go my way but I’m looking forward to facing the Dodgers again, facing the Reds whenever we face them and going out there and just giving it my all and trying to put it to them.”