Dave Martinez slowly walked toward Josiah Gray on Monday night as the Washington Nationals faced the Chicago Cubs. The Nationals were clinging to a one-run lead. It was the sixth inning. And Gray, who had thrown 100 pitches, immediately pushed his face in his glove and started to talk to himself.
It looked like Martinez might pull him. That’s how the manager has handled similar situations this season. Reliever Hunter Harvey was warming in the bullpen, but Gray looked intent on convincing Martinez to let him finish the inning.
“Honestly, I’m just saying to myself, ‘Keep me in here,’ ” Gray said. “So I was looking at him coming up the stairs, and I didn’t see him signal. So I just kind of had an inkling that he wasn’t going to take me out.”
His suspicion was correct. Martinez kept his head down until he reached the mound and never signaled to the bullpen.
“Yeah, it was kind of a [Max] Scherzer moment,” Martinez joked. “He looked at me, and he said, ‘Davey.’ I said: ‘Hey, you don’t have to say a word. I just came out to give you a little breather.’ I said: ‘You’re going to finish this inning. You’re the right guy.’ ”
Gray faced Patrick Wisdom and punched him out with a slider to record his 10th strikeout of the game. The 24-year-old is often even-keeled on the mound, though he occasionally flashes some passion. And he did Monday, when he bent over and clutched both fists. He screamed as he skipped and bounced off the mound.
“Probably number one,” Gray said about where that in-game celebration ranked for him. “I knew I had to go out there and get three more outs. I knew my pitch count was up there and just really excited to get that final out. If he would have popped out, I would have screamed. Obviously getting the strikeout’s better.”
Gray, who arrived in Washington when the Nationals sent Trea Turner and Scherzer to the Dodgers a year ago, rewarded his manager’s faith, which seems notable for the rebuilding Nationals, who are fresh off the Juan Soto-Josh Bell trade. A handful of the team’s top prospects are far from their major league debuts, so watching the development of players on the big league club — players such as CJ Abrams, who made his Nationals debut Monday, and MacKenzie Gore, who could return this season — will be important.
Gray and Martinez found themselves in a similar situation this past Wednesday, when Washington faced the Cubs in Chicago. Gray had pitched six scoreless innings before allowing a solo homer to Nico Hoerner to open the seventh. He recorded an out before giving up a single.
Instead of sticking with Gray to work out of the jam, Martinez turned to his bullpen in what would ultimately be a Washington loss.
“He never wants to come out of the game,” Martinez said about Gray that day. “And I love that about him. There’s going to be a moment where — guess what? — I close my eyes and sit down and say, ‘Go get them, big boy.’ ”
That moment presented itself just one week later.
“For me, it was one of those growth moments that I think he deserves and was ready for,” Martinez said Monday night.
Martinez also noted that Gray’s next leap as a pitcher will be pitching deeper into games — he has only made it through seven full innings once this season. But Martinez said after the game that he felt like Gray still had his best stuff late and was in a good rhythm. It was just one moment in a lost season for Washington, but it was also easy to see it as something more.
“Wanted to get those three outs and put the team in a position to win,” Gray said. “So him coming out and having that full confidence sort of amped me up, got the strikeout and just kind of let it out. It was a really fun moment.”