Nats GM: Early returns 'as advertised' with Josiah Gray

Josiah Gray has already shown the makings of a quality starting pitcher, allowing just three runs (two earned) with 12 strikeouts and four walks allowed in his first two starts for the Nationals, with a 10-strikeout gem in his most recent outing on Saturday.

Though the 6-foot-1, 190-pound right-hander has looked sharp, Nationals GM Mike Rizzo advises against reading too much into Gray's first few starts after the trade, or from any of their recent deadline acquisitions, for that matter.

"We're gonna evaluate every player that we have on the team," Rizzo told The Sports Junkies on Wednesday. "In such a short period of time, a few months, I think we'll get a snapshot of who Josiah is, and Riley [Adams] are, and [Keibert] Ruiz and the rest of the guys that you're gonna see in the big leagues, and we'll make our assessments going into the offseason from that."

"But I wouldn't put too much stock or pressure into the performance of these guys, in a six-week or two-month stint," he said. "It's more on how they adapt and how they improve, and how well they take to their new surroundings, I think is going to be as important as how many strikeouts they have and that type of thing."

Also consider that Gray is still relatively new to his starting role. He didn't become a starter until three years ago, during his junior year at Le Moyne College in 2018, when he went 11-0 with a 1.25 ERA across 13 starts in his first go of it. That was enough for the Reds to feel confident drafting him in the second round that same year.

There are naturally going to be some bumps and bruises as Gray continues to develop, especially now that he's doing it at the big league level. Prior to joining the Nationals, he'd made just two appearances for the Dodgers, and only one of those as a starter.

"I think he came as advertised," Rizzo said. "He's a strike-thrower. He's got good stuff. He's young to pitching — he was drafted as a position player and has taken well to pitching. He's a terrific athlete. We like athletes on the mound and you can tell that he really commands the baseball and can handle his position."

"He's got a good pick-off move to first, he can field the position well, he handles the bat very, very well," he continued, "so he's a good athlete on the mound with good stuff. And he pounds the strike zone and he's aggressive, so that's the makings of a really good starting pitcher."

The next phase of Gray's development is already underway, as he fine-tunes a third pitch in his arsenal. Thus far in his young career, Gray primarily relies on his four-seam fastball, which he throws 54.9 percent of the time, and his curveball (25.3%), according to BaseballSavant. He uses a slider 16.9 percent of the time and a changeup even less (2.9%).

"With Gray, he's come out of the block strong and our scouts kind of had seen him just like that," Rizzo said. "He's working on the third pitch, which I think will make him a really good Major League starter. He's got two plus-plus pitches already and good command and athleticism. The early returns are positive and kind of as advertised with JoJo."

As for Keibert Ruiz, Rizzo expects the 23-year-old catcher in the big leagues in the "not-too-distant" future. Ruiz is in the midst of an explosive Triple-A season, with 17 home runs in 57 games between Oklahoma City (Dodgers) and Rochester (Nats).

"We want to get his feet on the ground over there with the Nationals in Triple-A," Rizzo said. "But he'll be here in the not-too-distant future. We just want to get him going in Triple-A. He's having a terrific Triple-A season, so we just want to get his feet on the ground, and when we bring him here, we want to make sure he's got a good base established in the organization. He's a guy that likes to be settled in before he really starts to take off, so that's the report we have on him."