Gray simply perfect in Loons outing

Dodgers No. 18 prospect strikes out five in second start of year

Josiah Gray held opponents to a .155 batting average over 12 Appalachian League starts in 2018. (Alex Seder/Great Lakes Loons)

By Chris Bumbaca / | April 11, 2019 10:27 PM

From his first pitch of the night, Josiah Gray knew he brought the goods. 

Los Angeles' 18th-ranked prospect retired all 15 batters he faced and struck out five during Class A Great Lakes' 2-1 loss to South Bend at Dow Diamond on Thursday. Gray threw 52 pitches -- 39 for strikes. 

"I just felt like my command was there," he said. "We were working on the fastball usage, just keeping that up. Weather permitted that most guys didn't want to swing the bat, so just kept pounding my fastball from inning one. I knew that my stuff was on today and I'd be dominant."

Gameday box score

The 37-degree first pitch temperature in Midland, Michigan, may not have been ideal for hitters, so the No. 72 overall pick of the 2018 Draft took advantage. Normally, Gray prefers to deal in warmer climes, but he's always ready when it's time to take the mound.

"When you have the ball in your hand," he said, "you really don't want to make excuses for yourself." 

Gray fanned a pair of Cubs -- D.J. Artis and Andy Weber -- in the first inning and got Nelson Velazquez swinging in the second. Two groundouts and a lineout pushed him through the third untouched, and he fanned Artis and Weber again in the fourth made it 12 retired in a row. 

It was at that point the 6-foot-1 prospect knew he had something special going.

"I was like 'All right, I haven't walked anybody," Gray said. "And I know they haven't gotten a hit, so I'm riding with a perfect game right now. Hopefully I can go a little longer than the normal limits.'"

Tyler Durna grounded out to first for the final out of the fifth, which proved to be Gray's last frame. The 21-year-old right-hander gave way to Austin Drury, who continued the perfect game until one out in the seventh, when Levi Jordan doubled to right. The lefty surrendered two runs -- one earned -- on five hits over three innings of relief.

Video: Gray records fifth K for Loons

"I saw [Drury] got a couple [outs] in the sixth and seventh and I was like, 'All right, we might get through this one.' ... It's so rare that you'll get a perfect game or a no-hitter, but at the end of the day, you just want to win the ballgame," Gray said. "That's what I was really pushing for. Unfortunately, we didn't get this one." 

The Loons budgeted the 190-pounder for five innings and stuck to that blueprint at this early juncture of the season, even though Gray was clearly rolling. The hook didn't bother him -- he knows there are bigger things ahead. "I just went out there and did my thing in a lot less pitches than normal.

"I'm really confident in what [the Dodgers are] doing here, so at the end of the day, I'm not too upset that they pulled the hook on me, because I know that there's future plans and they have a lot in store for me," he added. "I just went out there and did my thing in a lot less pitches than normal." 

During his first start for Great Lakes on Saturday, the New Rochelle, New York, native threw 72 pitches and allowed one earned run on two hits and two walks while whiffing six over 4 2/3 frames. 

Los Angeles landed Gray on Dec. 21, 2018 in the blockbuster deal that sent Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Alex Wood and Kyle Farmer to Cincinnati. Additionally, the Dodgers received eighth-ranked prospect Jeter Downs and Homer Bailey. The move caught him off guard. 

"Honestly, it was out of the blue," Gray said. "I didn't really have being traded on my mind. I was just getting ready to report to Spring Training with the Reds. That did happen, so of course, it surprised me a little bit and changed a few things, but I'm very grateful to the Reds for giving me an opportunity. I'm also very grateful to the Dodgers to see something in me to trade me for those high-caliber guys and help me develop on the way to the big leagues." 

When the Dodgers acquired Gray this offseason, they were likely picturing the type of outing he turned in Thursday. And Gray is working hard to make the organization's faith in him worthwhile. So far, he has been impressed with the Dodgers' thoughts on pitch development, their strength and conditioning practices and how they emphasize aspects of the game he previously didn't consider.

"The organization is top-notch," he said. "They're really collaborative in their efforts to get you better and I think that's something that's going to help me so much beyond just this year. ... I think just being in this organization is something you can't take for granted because everything is given to you. You just have to culminate that and find a way to benefit." 

2019 MiLB include

After being selected by Cincinnati, the Le Moyne College product made 12 starts for Rookie Advanced Greeneville in the Appalachian League. Gray yielded 15 earned runs and one homer over 52 1/3 innings with 59 punchouts and 17 walks while posting a 0.88 WHIP. Through a pair of starts in the Midwest League, he's noticed hitters in Class A have improved plate discipline. 

"They're not going to swing out of the zone as often as the Appy League," Gray said. "It's just baseball. If you command your stuff and are confident and convicted in what you are doing, you'll have success more times than not. That's honestly what I go out there and feel in myself every day. Until that fails me, that's how I'm going to be every fifth day." 

Cubs righty Cam Sanders worked around a hit and four walks over five scoreless innings.

Chris Bumbaca is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter @BOOMbaca. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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