Sunday, September 24 2023
Washington Nationals starting pitcher Josiah Gray throws during the first inning of a baseball game.

There is nothing the Dodgers could use right now more than a durable and effective starting pitcher.

A guy like, say, Josiah Gray.

This is not a story about how the Dodgers made a bad trade. Yet, as Gray and the Washington Nationals arrive at Dodger Stadium on Monday, these statistics are inescapable: Gray is tied for third in the National League with a 2.77 earned-run average, and tied for the league lead in games started.

He was a Dodger, not too long ago, and not for long.

The Dodgers’ success traditionally revolves around starting pitching. In each of the last six seasons, the Dodgers have ranked first or second in the league in earned-run average among starting pitchers.

Last year, the Dodgers’ starters put up a 2.75 ERA. In 2021, they put up a 2.93 ERA.

This year, the Dodgers’ starters rank seventh in the NL, with a 4.44 ERA. Walker Buehler and Dustin May and Julio Urías all are injured. Noah Syndergaard has a 6.27 ERA, and no NL pitcher who does not call Coors Field home has thrown more innings with a higher ERA.


The Dodgers have deployed rookie reinforcements, including Michael Grove, Bobby Miller, Ryan Pepiot and Gavin Stone. On Sunday, Stone faced 16 batters and gave up 10 hits.

Gray was one of those reinforcements in 2021, a year in which the Dodgers used 19 starting pitchers, including a distressing number of openers.

On July 20, the Dodgers promoted Gray for his major league debut. He threw four innings that day, four more on July 25. In those eight innings, he gave up six runs, including four home runs.

“When guys come up and they debut, they question themselves: ‘Do I belong? What do I have to do to say I belong?’ ” Gray said during the Nationals’ recent trip to San Francisco. “I kind of dealt with that a little bit.”


On July 30, 2021, the Dodgers traded him. With Trevor Bauer then on indefinite leave as the commissioner’s office investigated sexual assault allegations against him, the Dodgers traded Gray and catching prospect Keibert Ruiz to the Nationals for ace Max Scherzer and infielder Trea Turner.

The Nationals, accelerating an aggressive rebuild in which Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon already had left in free agency and Juan Soto would later be traded, immediately inserted Gray into their rotation. He started for Washington on Aug. 2, and he has started just about every fifth day since then.

With the Dodgers, and with the imperative to win, Gray likely would have been optioned repeatedly, shuttled between the major and minor leagues. With the Nationals, Gray could pitch without worrying that one bad start would result in a return to triple A, or even that one good start would be followed by the activation of a veteran and a return to triple A.

Josiah Gray pitches for the Washington Nationals against the Miami Marlins on May 16, 2023, in Florida.Josiah Gray pitches for the Washington Nationals against the Miami Marlins on May 16, 2023, in Florida.
Josiah Gray, pitching for the Washington Nationals against the Miami Marlins on May 16, is in the top five in ERA in the National League. (Marta Lavandier / Associated Press)

Gray called that comfort level “really huge” in his development.


“You don’t want to think about when they’re going to get the next guy in to take your spot, but I feel like it’s a reality that we don’t shed light on,” he said. “Just trying to go out there, the best I can, and not thinking about that.

“But, at some point, those thoughts do cross everyone’s mind, so just trying not to let it be too overbearing.”

Pitching every fifth day last season did not in itself transform Gray into an effective starter. His ERA was 5.02. No pitcher in the NL walked more batters. No pitcher in the majors gave up more home runs.

Gray said a key difference this year is the introduction of a cutter that has helped “neutralize hitters” by inducing soft contact.


For Nationals manager Davey Martinez, a key difference for Gray is an adjustment to his delivery that helped him deliver the ball to the desired spot, rather than to a spot from where batters could far too often launch it into the stands. After giving up three home runs in his first start this season, Gray has given up three in his 10 starts since then.

“His misses on his fastball aren’t crazy anymore,” Martinez said.

Nationals coach Gary DiSarcina sees all that, and help from an improved defense too. He also sees Gray another year removed from constant reminders that he was traded for a three-time Cy Young Award winner, the one who started the clinching game in the Nationals’ 2019 World Series championship.

“It’s a different dynamic when a player is part of those types of trades,” DiSarcina said. “We all have pressure, but there is the extra added pressure of having to justify why he was part of that. I think that is behind him.


“I think he is definitely in a calm, good place this year. His body language has been different. He just looks like he belongs.”

Andrew Friedman might hear “Yordan Álvarez for Josh Fields” for the rest of his career. Still, in the nine years Friedman has run the Dodgers’ baseball operations, he has traded for Mookie Betts, Manny Machado, Yu Darvish and Rich Hill without giving up any prospects who have come back to haunt the Dodgers.

Friedman traded Gray because the Dodgers needed Scherzer to replace Bauer. In 2021, with the Dodgers defending a World Series championship and in the midst of a 106-win season, that was a no-brainer, even more so when the teams expanded the trade to include Turner.

Scherzer and Turner left the Dodgers in free agency. The Nationals are delighted with their return. In spring training, they signed Ruiz to an eight-year, $50-million contract.


Gray has emerged as a reliable starter, although his walk rate is up and his strikeout rate is down this season. He is averaging one walk every two innings, not a barometer of long-term success. His future nonetheless looks bright, and the Nationals can keep him in Washington while they refine his game.

Gray called pitcher Andre Jackson his closest friend with the Dodgers. In the 22 months since the Dodgers traded Gray, they have optioned Jackson to triple-A Oklahoma City 13 times.

In L.A., that could have just as easily been Gray’s fate. In Washington, Gray could be a budding star.

“I just look forward to going out and making a name for myself, proving I can continue to do this,” he said, “and being a part of that next great rotation for the Nationals.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

Source: Yahoo Sports


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