As Josiah Gray prepares for his second big-league season in 2022, the Nationals’ right-hander is aiming to pitch deeper into the year than he ever has.
Gray, who turns 24 this month, joined Washington at the trade deadline in July. The Nationals acquired him alongside Keibert Ruiz and two other prospects from the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner. They didn’t wait long to promote him to the big leagues, inserting him into the rotation for 12 starts to close out the season.
An impingement in his right shoulder limited him to just 86 1/3 innings this year, but he hit 145 2/3 between college and rookie ball in 2018 before throwing 130 frames during his first professional season in 2019. Next year, Gray told Half Street High Heat podcast hosts Ryan Lohr and Nick Meyers in an episode published Wednesday that he hopes to hit 200.
“Two hundred innings definitely is going to be an ambitious goal of mine,” Gray said. “Obviously, sometimes it doesn’t work out that way, but I think that’d be awesome to get close to that or as close as I can. That would mean me going out every start and giving the team a chance to win, that’s how I translate it. I’m going out five, seven innings, if not more just giving the team a chance to win and that’s how it helps to accumulate as many innings as possible and just prove I can be that guy for the team.”
The 200-inning mark proved to be a difficult goal for most pitchers last season. Only four starters exceeded the number: Zack Wheeler (213 1/3), Walker Buehler (207 2/3), Adam Wainwright (206 1/3) and Sandy Alcantara (205 2/3).
However, the entire sport was coming off a pandemic-shortened 2020 season that saw starters experience a dramatic drop-off in their yearly workload. In the previous four years, MLB saw an average of 14.5 pitchers hit 200 innings per season. Though that’s still down from previous decades, 200 is an attainable goal for pitchers that can stay healthy and go deep into starts.
As far as his arsenal goes, Gray hopes to incorporate his changeup as a significant weapon after throwing it only 3.2% of the time last season. He also plans to harness better control of his fastball, a pitch opponents slugged .620 against in 2021 despite averaging almost 95 mph.
“Just continuing to work on my stuff, work on my command,” Gray said of his offseason goals. “Dialing in another offspeed pitch with the changeup. I’ve been putting a lot of work in with that. Dialing in the breaking balls as well and just command of the fastball. I think a lot of times this past year in 2021, I got too happy with fastballs over the heart of the plate and it hurt me more times than not.
“That’s just the progression of becoming a big leaguer, you’re only gonna learn that in the big leagues. In Triple-A, I might get away with a fastball over the heart of the plate. In the big leagues, you miss that too many times you won’t get away with it and I saw that.”
Gray posted a 5.48 ERA as a rookie between his stints in Los Angeles and Washington. The Nationals will count on him to be a vital part of both their rotation in 2022 and their rebuild that will set the course for the organization the next half-decade. If Gray hits 200 innings and continues to take steps forward in his development, the 2022 season will be a resounding success for the former top prospect.