• December 5, 2021

Josiah Gray, the Nationals’ best prospect, impresses on the mound in his debut

Scott Cassidy had a decision to make.

Le Moyne College, the team Cassidy coached for, held a three-run lead early in the 2017 season. But even though Josiah Gray owns an 8.31 ERA over 8 2/3 innings, he pitched as a freshman. year, Cassidy addressed the sophomore in a critical position.

Gray, drafted as a two-way player, had already hit the three-run homer from the lead early in the game. He needed four outs to secure the victory when he took the mound.

And he struck out all four, throwing 95 mph fastballs past the batters.

“Wow, this kid has some legitimate stuff,” Cassidy recalled saying. “This could be his thing.”

Cassidy witnessed Gray’s steady progression as a pitcher throughout college, but it’s that sequence that the coach points to as the first surprising moment in Gray’s development. It would not be the last. He pitched a complete game in his last college start as a junior, still pitching 95 in the ninth inning. The New Rochelle, NY, native posted a 0.63 ERA in his sophomore year and a 0.89 WHIP in his junior.

And four years after Gray wowed Cassidy with four straight shots to close out a game, Gray took the mound at Nationals Park, a centerpiece of a rebuild in Washington. He was one of the top returning players in the deal that sent Trea Turner and Max Scherzer to the Los Angeles Dodgers, and with his five innings on Monday night, Gray showed why he’s considered the 59th best prospect in the league. baseball.

“I’d be lying if I said I thought it would be like this,” Cassidy said. “I don’t think anyone realized how cool he had become.”

The crowd gathered in Nationals Park Monday night saw the first glimpses of that at the Major League level. Gray arrived in Washington and was activated on the list Sunday morning. He took the mound Monday night, on a new team with new expectations – a team that looks to the future rather than the present, trusting a 23-year-old to be an important part of that.

When Gray came off the mound after a 1-2-3 first inning, the fans behind the dugout gave him a standing ovation, welcoming him to the Nationals. He would go out four more times, concluding his outing with 71 pitches. He allowed four hits, including a solo homer to Odubel Herrera on a fastball that went over the plate. Gray walked two and struck out two more.

All in all, it was a promising first outing for a young arm, finding his way with a new organization as he plunged deep against the Phillies. It did not sink.

“I felt pretty comfortable my entire outing, from the first pitch to the last,” Gray said. “The nerves didn’t really affect me. Obviously, they are still a bit there. But I felt comfortable, I felt that my things were pretty good, I felt that it could be better, it will be better. Overall, I’m happy with the start and I feel like there is a lot of room to grow. “

When Cassidy first recruited Gray, she envisioned a more advantageous two-way player in the middle of the frame. At 6ft 1in and 190lbs, he lacks the build of most major league pitchers.

But Gray gained traction from the mound in college, seeing a sharp increase in speed. And when he played in the Cape Cod Baseball League during the summer of 2017, Cassidy knew that Gray’s future was not at shortstop or at the plate. So Cassidy sat Gray down when she returned to Le Moyne College in the fall.

“Hey, do you realize you’re not playing infield anymore?” Cassidy asked him. “And the look on his face was like, you know, you’re telling a position player they’re not going to hit anymore. It was like pulling teeth. He didn’t want to hear it, but he also understood it. Listen, ‘You have a chance to make money in this position. You’re really good at it. ‘

That decision led the Cincinnati Reds to select Gray in the second round of the 2018 MLB Draft. And two changes later, the first to the Dodgers and the second to the Nationals, brought him to the mound Monday night. in Washington.

He first found out about the trade Thursday night, then flew to Oklahoma City on Saturday, where the Dodgers’ Triple-A affiliate is located, to take a few things from his place. Then came his Sunday morning flight to DC, racing to the ballpark to meet his new teammates.

“It’s been a whirlwind for the last four days,” Gray said, “but it comes with the business, it comes with the territory.”

Gray barely had a chance to establish himself before being on the mound, an important part of the Nationals rebuilding as they reported to Washington on Monday night. He mixed a curveball and a slider into his repertoire, and the same fastball that once wowed Cassidy stood out for manager Dave Martinez.

“He is the future for us,” Martinez said.

And the future is now.

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