Nationals fall to Marlins, but Josiah Gray finds a pitch to believe in

MIAMI – When it comes to his feelings, Josiah Gray doesn’t keep many secrets about the mound. After hitting Bryan De La Cruz in the sixth inning on Friday, throwing a misplaced fastball that cost him a run, Gray’s body convulsed and screamed to himself. And once he escaped the inning, after the Miami Marlins scored three goals, Gray covered his mouth with his glove and screamed again.

There were intriguing elements in Gray’s opening six innings. He threw his new sinker for 23 of his 92 shots, most notably more than his 14 four-stitch fastballs. After the fourth inning, his only four goals was the one he hit De La Cruz in the decisive rally. Second through fifth, Gray was sharp and efficient, leaning on his slider, curve and sinker, in that order, to keep the struggling Marlins at bay.

But with bursts of attack in the first and sixth, the Marlins beat the Washington Nationals, 5-2, at LoanDepot Park. Miami started in sixth place with two consecutive singles on Gray’s ballast, a field he added in mid-summer and slowly gained confidence. Then Gray walked over to JJ Bleday, De La Cruz wore the 1-2 fastball, and Charles Leblanc followed a single RBI. The next hitter, Miguel Rojas, went down in a double play while another point crossed at home.

“He did two things: he flipped the sinkers and today he flipped the shifts, which is great,” said manager Dave Martinez, noting the shifter even though Gray used it twice in the entire outing. “If he can do those two things and the batters can take his fastball and slider off, it will help him in the long run.”

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Gray, 24, entered after scoring the most homers (37) and walks (63) in the National League. On Friday, however, he didn’t hit a hitter until sixth and kept Miami in the yard. It was the first time in 13 starts an opponent did not take it deep, a trait that dates back to 25 June. Instead, the Marlins jumped ahead by beating two four-seams fastballs for a pair of doubles in the first. This quickly wiped out Lane Thomas’ leading homer from Marlins owner Braxton Garrett.

With the inning, Gray threw four four seams in the first, four in the second, two in the third and three in the fourth, then almost completely shelved it. If he can finish the plate, his horizontal movement could help him avoid hard contact moving forward. The average speed for the field was just over a mile per hour slower than its four seams (93.4 to 94.6). Testing it so hard – something Gray can do at this stage of a lost season – is a promising development, even if it was expressed within a defeat.

“It developed naturally,” Gray said of the ballast. “I wanted to get a fast ball with a little more running. Including that and my four-stitch fastball too, delivering two different looks at the same speed. So, with heavy right-handed training, I thought it was really cool to bring it back to the outside corner and put it in their hands, and it was pretty effective today.

“I have to go back to the film and see how many successes… how many results. But I feel it will be a really effective field to wrap up the year and next year, just to offer two different fast balls along with the breaking balls and the substitution. “

What stood out with the Nationals offense? Luke Voit followed a tough streak against the Atlanta Braves – 1 for 12, eight strikeouts – with one 0 for 4 nights and three strikeouts at the cleanup spot. Beating right in front of him, Joey Meneses struck twice against Garrett before recording a double off RBI Huascar Brazoban in the eighth. CJ Abrams had reached the double to score on Meneses’ shot. Otherwise, the Nationals (52-98) received little production aside from Thomas’ 17th homer and a handful of singles, including two each for Alex Call and Victor Robles.

Where will MacKenzie Gore make her next start? In Rochester, NY, with the Red Wings AAA Class early next week. After noting that Gore played well in his last appearance in rehab, even strengthening himself as the game progressed, manager Dave Martinez ruled out the possibility of him joining the rotation against the Braves. Martinez still wants 23-year-old Gore to complete five innings and throw about 75 pitches for Rochester. From there, the southpaw could line up to face the Philadelphia Phillies at Nationals Park, possibly taking a doubleheader’s leg on October 1.

Gore state isn’t the only question for Washington staff. Patrick Corbin came out of his last start early with back spasms and it’s day to day. If he fails to make his next round, the Nationals have five starters in Gray, Erick Fedde (Saturday), Aníbal Sánchez (Sunday), Cory Abbott and Paolo Espino. And if they’re staying away from Espino in Miami this weekend, that could indicate it’s needed for another start.

Martinez is also not sure if Gray will launch again this year. Washington has vowed to carefully manage its innings along the stretch. Six more frames on Friday boosted Gray’s career total to 142⅔.

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