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Josiah Gray endures rough start as Marlins continue dominance of Nats

After a strong run of five starts, Josiah Gray struggled against the Marlins on Friday night. “My confidence and everything is never going to waver,” he said. (Alex Brandon/AP)

Josiah Gray took a look toward the scoreboard in right field, then swiped at the dirt of the pitcher’s mound, his face full of frustration in the fifth inning of a sticky Friday night at Nationals Park. It had been a while since the 24-year-old right-hander had a start like this one against the Miami Marlins.

The visitors had their way with Gray in a 6-3 Nationals loss, Miami’s ninth win in 10 games over Washington (29-50) this year. Gray failed to make it out of the sixth, yielding 10 hits and six runs. Such are the growing pains for a pitcher who gave up only 13 hits in 24 innings over four June starts.

“It wasn’t good,” Gray said after Friday’s start. “Just a lot of — not so much hard contact but a lot of contact. They put some contact on some well-placed pitches but also some poorly located pitches.”

Friday’s loss raised his ERA to a still-respectable 4.22, down from a season high of 5.44 after a tough late-May start against the Dodgers, his former team, when he admitted his emotions got the best of him.

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Gray looked locked in again when he retired the first six batters of the game — the first three with flyouts, the next with three strikeouts.

But Gray gave up a home run to Brian Anderson to start the third inning, putting the Marlins (35-40) ahead 1-0. He fanned the next two batters before allowing what proved to be a costly two-out walk to Jon Berti. Berti stole second, then Joey Wendle drove him in with a single. Garrett Cooper followed with a double, and suddenly it was 3-0. Berti’s sacrifice fly in the fifth tacked on another run.

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The sixth didn’t go much better. Gray allowed four consecutive singles to open the frame and got two outs (one on a fielder’s choice that made it 6-1) before a walk finally led Manager Dave Martinez to come out and get him.

“When he works ahead, he’s really good,” Martinez said. “We’ve seen that in the past. … Today, you saw some of the hits they got. It wasn’t like he threw the ball awful, but, you know, he fell behind on a bunch of hitters, and that’s where they beat him up.”

On the season, Gray’s opponents have swung and missed at 47.2 percent of his sliders and 37.5 percent of his curveballs. But Gray didn’t miss many bats Friday — and the growing pains were evident on his face as he walked off the mound.

“My confidence and everything is never going to waver,” Gray said. “Especially with the way I’ve been able to bounce back after the outings against the Dodgers or the Astros. Just an unlucky day at the ballpark, but I get to come back tomorrow and get back to work.”

When did Victor Robles exit Friday’s game and why? Robles hit a ball off his left shin in the third inning and grimaced. He finished the at-bat by striking out and played the field the following inning before being replaced by Ehire Adrianza to start the fifth.

When was Keibert Ruiz’s last home run before Friday night? June 10. His two-run blast to center field off Josh Rogers that scored Juan Soto in the sixth inning was his third of the season. Nelson Cruz drove in Soto in the fourth when he grounded into a double play, accounting for the entirety of the Nationals’ scoring. Rogers is 3-0 with a 2.25 ERA against the Nationals and 1-6 with a 6.58 ERA against everyone else.

Why did backup catcher Riley Adams get optioned? To get consistent at-bats and work on his defense at catcher and first base. Tres Barrera was called up to fill Adams’s spot. Adams was hitting just .192 in 88 plate appearances, notching 15 hits to go with 26 strikeouts. For Adams, 26, getting reps at first base could be important given the likelihood Josh Bell will be dealt at the trade deadline, though Martinez deflected when asked whether that played a role in the decision to send Adams down.

Barrera, 27, made a handful of starts for the Nationals last July and August. Before Adams arrived at the trade deadline, Barrera filled in when Yan Gomes and Alex Avila were injured. After Adams joined the club, Barrera became his backup. And when Keibert Ruiz was called up in late August, Barrera was optioned to Rochester. He had been there ever since, posting a solid .256 batting average, .342 on-base percentage and .439 slugging percentage this season.

Who else was called up and what corresponding move was made? Mason Thompson was recalled from Class AAA Rochester. To create a spot on the 40-man roster, Sam Clay was designated for assignment.

Thompson pitched a scoreless ninth after being on the injured list since April 10 with biceps tendinitis. He made three relief appearances for Rochester, and the plan was for him to throw in back-to-back outings before returning to the majors, but the team felt he was ready.

“The last couple of months, I’ve been kind of trying to work on myself and my pitching,” Thompson said. “Coming back now, my goal is to go out there and compete and be a better version of where I was earlier this year.”

Clay, 29, signed with the Nationals as a free agent in November 2020 but never was able to control the strike zone in the majors. In 58 games last year, the left-hander compiled a 5.60 ERA. This year, Clay started in Rochester and bounced between there and Washington. He gave up five runs in 4⅓ innings for the Nationals.