For a player who got only one scholarship offer from a Division II school that wanted him as a shortstop, pitching is working out well for Josiah Gray.
The Le Moyne College product, in just his third pro start, delivered five hitless innings with five strikeouts and one walk as Rookie-level Greeneville defeated Johnson City, 8-2, on Tuesday at TVA Credit Union Ballpark.
Gameday box score
Cincinnati's supplemental second-round pick knew he hadn't given up any hits when he came out of the contest.
"They had the scoreboard going today and I saw that bright as day," Gray said. "I wasn't sure how long I was going [in terms of pitches]. I threw 45 in the first start, and then 51, and today 61. I'm not sure where they'll cut me off. We'll see where we can go."
He threw 61 pitches, 42 for strikes, in his longest pro outing. He hurled three perfect innings with five strikeouts in his debut against Bristol on June 21 and followed that by giving up four runs -- three earned -- on five hits in three innings vs. Bluefield on June 28.
The right-hander was far more efficient Tuesday. He walked his first batter, Cardinals No. 12 prospect Jonatan Machado, but then set down the next 15 batters, five of them on strikes. Gray (1-1) fanned 2018 first-round pick Nolan Gorman twice.
Scouts have said Gray will have to polish his command as he moves along, but he takes issue with that.
"I've always thrown strikes, so whenever I heard scouts say that, I took it as a bit of a hit. Last year, I threw strikes about 75 percent of the time," he said. "I took it as a bit of a hit, but you have to prove it on a daily basis, and [command] is what dictates you're a good pitcher or not."
Gray said he's confident in both his off-speed pitches and his slider particularly has taken "great leaps" from high school to now. He also feels confident throwing his changeup in any count.
Le Monye coach Scott Cassidy recruited Gray as a shortstop, but the 20-year-old didn't see much time as a freshman and then played summer ball in the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League. After splitting time on the mound and at short as a sophomore, he switched to the mound full-time in the elite Cape Cod League before his junior year.
Players from the Northeast such as Gray sometimes get lost because the weather can make seeing them in action difficult for scouts.
"I'm sure the schools in my area are still in awe about, 'How did we miss this kid?,"' he said.
Still, Gray feels fortunate to have gotten a shot to play college ball.
"Yeah [Le Moyne] was my only offer," he said. "I had a few schools interested but never ever stuck, I had a teammate in travel ball and his high school coach knew Coach Cassidy. He liked what he saw, and made me an offer and two weeks later I said yes. I have loved the decision ever since."
It was on the Cape that Gray's stock skyrocketed. He had an offer from Wareham, but it was a partial-year deal. Then Chatham offered him a full deal just before the start of the elite summer league season.
"It was a great realization that a team wanted me," he said. "It was the best summer of my life. I emerged in that closer role, and that's really where scouts saw me against much better competition. I had somewhat of a chip on my shoulder as a guy from a small school. But I was up against guys from [big] Division I programs, and I was good, not to toot my own horn. But my play on the field has always done the talking."
Gray blossomed this season for Le Monye, ranking among Division II leaders with 11 wins and a 1.25 ERA, which stood third in the country.
"But after throwing a lot of innings in college, I know [the Reds] want to make sure I don't throw too much and then I can come back refreshed [for next season]," he said.
The New Rochelle, New York native was a fan of the Yankees and Alex Rodriguez growing up and hoped to be a big league shortstop. Still, he acknowledged the move to the mound was for the best.
"I wasn't bummed, it was something I came to grips with," he said. "Shortstop is my first love, but there comes a point in time when I look in the mirror and say, "I have a great opportunity to make it to the Majors [as a pitcher], so go with that."
Gray said there's a simple reason for being able to handle the transition from DII to pro ball well.
"When it comes down to pitching, no matter where you come from, it comes down to location and command," he added. "If you command your pitches, it won't matter where you came from, college-wise. If your stuff is good enough, the Division II label won't matter."
The 20-year-old had plenty of help on offense Tuesday as Greeneville jumped out to the lead in the first inning in a four-run frame highlighted by Jonathan Willems' three-run homer.
The Reds added three more runs in the fifth on homers by Zeke White and Hunter Oliver, sandwiched around a triple by Willems.
Gorman scored on a groundout and Dariel Gomez scored on third baseman Willems' throwing error to account for Johnson City's runs.
Willems made up for the miscue with another triple in the ninth, scoring on a grounder by Reniel Ozuna for the final margin.