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TORONTO — Josiah Gray hoped his previous outing in New York was the light at the end of a dark August tunnel. He had delivered six innings with a one-hit ball and completed about five walks in a win at Yankee Stadium, giving him reason to believe he was back on track.
Then came Monday night’s regression against another American League East team. The strike zone again proved elusive and Gray wasn’t so lucky against the Toronto Blue Jays, losing 6-3 as the Nationals right-hander lasted just two innings at the Rogers Center.
Gray gave up four walks — two in each frame, each time including the leadoff batter. Toronto manned the bases but didn’t score in the first inning. The Blue Jays (72-60) capitalized on the free passes in a four-run second that ended Gray’s night after 63 pitches, of which only 36 were strikes. Gray threw 40 pitches in the second inning alone, forcing manager Dave Martinez to cover six innings with his bullpen in the first of three games north of the limit. The start was Gray’s shortest assignment of the season.
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“I just feel for these guys,” Gray said of the bullpen. “Obviously I want to keep throwing the ball and keep the team in the game to some extent, but that just wasn’t the case today. Distributing command over all my throws just wasn’t my day.”
Gray led the National League in allowed home runs and walks last year and has focused on tackling both issues during the offseason. The results were mixed — his homers per nine innings were nearly halved (2.3 last season, 1.2 this year) by pitching to contact and sacrificing strikeouts. But walks are up – 4.4 versus 4.0 a year ago.
Gray’s mechanics were a focus for the trainers who worked with him to better align with the record. When Gray has trouble, he opens his body too early and misses the plate on his side of the arm. Gray also lands on the side of his plant foot when pitching, reducing his margin for error.
Gray found ways to overcome the high walk totals in the first half and posted a 3.41 ERA, earning him his first All-Star award. He did it in his last start against the Yankees. But that formula isn’t tenable and his ERA has soared to 5.09 since the break.
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“He just flew really badly, couldn’t stay behind the ball and pushed a lot of balls,” Martinez said. “His misses were wide of the mark. We talk to him. We will watch a film and try to fix it before its next start.”
The Nationals (61-71) put Gray ahead before taking the mound when Joey Meneses’ single hit CJ Abrams in the first inning. But after Gray defeated Danny Jansen and Kevin Kiermaier in the second set, George Springer hit a bloop single in midfield to level the score at 1. Two batters later, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit a two-run double off the right midfield wall that scored two points. Davis Schneider brought Guerrero to a 4-1 final with a single.
“He threw 40 shots in that inning and I thought that was enough,” Martinez said. “He looked like he had some mechanical issues. I think he’s doing well physically. . . . He forced a lot of throws, so I didn’t want to send him out again.”
Martinez challenged Robert Garcia, Andrés Machado, Jose A. Ferrer and Jordan Weems to go through the last six innings. Garcia and Machado also struggled, throwing 35 and 39 pitches, respectively, in their two-inning outings.
In the third round, Jansen Garcia hit deep down and hit a solo home run. And although the Nationals got two runs back from a Meneses double in the fifth set, the Blue Jays added a run at the end of the inning to stay in control on a night when Washington didn’t play clean baseball. Aside from Abrams (3-5) and Meneses (2-4), the Nationals only managed two hits and two errors.
Of greatest concern remains Gray, who conceded 19 runs in 19⅓ innings in August, a month that could derail a promising season.
“Walks are part of the game,” Gray said. “I’ve been walking with men a lot more than I’m used to. But I know that I can get out of these troubles with a pitch, and we always talk about that. …Today I just didn’t really have my good stuff, and if you look at the scoreboard, I’m throwing two innings and putting the bullpen in a hole very early. So it’s just bad.”
Remarks: Before the game, the Nationals recalled AAA Rochester catcher Drew Millas. Millas hit a pinch hit in the ninth inning and landed on first base. To make room for him in the 40-man roster, they placed Carl Edwards Jr. on the 60-day injured list after he sustained a stress fracture in his right shoulder blade during a rehab start. The Nationals had transferred outfielder Blake Rutherford to Rochester on Sunday.
Millas had been with the team since Saturday as a member of the taxi team. Fellow catcher Keibert Ruiz felt groggy after taking a foul ball off the mask on Wednesday and missed three of the next four games.
Martinez has had Ruiz and Riley Adams together in the lineup more often over the past month, often using Ruiz as the designated hitter while Adams is behind the plate. If Martinez continues this pattern, Millas could get some playing time beyond the close hit chances. . . .
Martinez said outfielder Stone Garrett had work done on his ankle in addition to his fibula during last week’s surgery. Garrett will not be able to put weight on his leg for the next six weeks.
Source : www.washingtonpost.com