With one start left before the all-star break, Gray has a 3.30 ERA in 95⅓ innings, more than a full run better than his 4.40 ERA through 17 starts in 2022. By the end of last season, he had allowed more home runs (38) and walks (66) than any other pitcher in the National League. This year, he has limited homers and made walks less painful. He has worked three new pitches — a cutter, a sinker and a sweeping slider — into an arsenal that used to revolve around his fastball and two breaking balls, making him far too predictable. His first all-star selection, coming in his second full season, is a nod to that progress.
“It shows me I can battle, I can fight back,” said Gray, who was acquired by the Nationals in the 2021 trade that sent Trea Turner and Max Scherzer to the Los Angeles Dodgers. “Last year I was able to grow and become a full-time starter with this team. This year, there’s been some good, there’s been some bad, and there’s been some so-so. But to be able to go out there and give the team a chance to win, in spring training, that was my number one goal. …
“I know I’m going to take care of my stuff off the field, whether that’s mixing in some new pitches, doing deeper dives with hitters, whatever it may be. … And I’m forever grateful for Davey, [General Manager Mike] Rizzo, everyone in that clubhouse for just leaning on me and believing in me.”
At the start and end of an interview Sunday, Gray stumped for a pair of teammates, the ones who left him “shocked” that Major League Baseball picked him to fill out the NL roster for the July 11 matchup at T-Mobile Park in Seattle. Lane Thomas has a team-high 14 homers and an .854 OPS, the eighth best among NL outfielders entering Sunday. Jeimer Candelario led all NL third basemen in FanGraphs’ version of wins above replacement. But because every team needs at least one all-star, choosing reserves can be a numbers game, especially after starters are determined by a fan vote that tends to favor the bigger markets and fan bases.
Nick Castellanos was the Philadelphia Phillies’ only selection, joining Juan Soto (San Diego Padres) and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (Arizona Diamondbacks) as the NL’s reserve outfielders. Jorge Soler, an outfielder for the Miami Marlins, made the team behind the Los Angeles Dodgers’ J.D. Martinez, the starting designated hitter. At third base, the Atlanta Braves’ Austin Riley — a player with numbers similar to Candelario’s — will back up Nolan Arenado of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Looking ahead, Gray was excited to meet Aaron Judge, Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani. But he wouldn’t mind having a teammate along, too. Thomas or Candelario could make it as a replacement, though Thomas probably has a better chance.
“I think they both deserve an opportunity to go play and represent the Washington Nationals,” Martinez said after Sunday’s 5-4 win over the Phillies. “… Those guys have really been the guys who, offensively, have been unbelievable for us. They come up with big hits. Lane’s done well — he’s done well on both sides of the ball. Candy has been amazing — another big home run today. So hopefully they look at these two guys if anything happens.”