“Every thought the whole day was to challenge guys and throw seven innings,” Gray said. “I kept saying, ‘Throw seven innings, give up zero runs and we win the game.’”
Gray didn’t need the two insurance runs the Reds lineup gave him in the top of the fifth inning at Nationals Park. Certainly, he happily took the boost, but he was dominating the Nationals all evening during Cincinnati’s 3-0 win, a victory that gave the club two out of three in the series.
In his best showing of 2021, Gray provided six innings with two hits, one walk and five strikeouts while throwing 90 pitches. Lucas Sims was given the final inning and notched his third save by retiring the side in order.
It was Gray’s first win of the season, and he’s now 1-3 with a 3.40 ERA in eight starts.
“Sonny was lights out, carried us the whole way and then Lucas came in and slammed the door,” Reds left fielder Jesse Winker said. “It was fun playing behind Sonny, man. It was electric.”
Here is a breakdown of Gray’s night by the numbers:
3 – The number of balls that left the infield from Washington hitters while Gray was pitching.
5 – The total of grounded outs that were hit back to the mound for Gray.
“I was trying to be a ballplayer, I had my pants up and tried to play baseball,” Gray joked.
15 – The total number of sliders Gray threw out of 90 pitches in the game. He leaned more on the pitch than usual, especially early on. He notched nine strikes.
“It’s the best my slider’s been all year. I got a lot of outs with it. I was throwing it for strikes,” Gray said. “I wasn’t just throwing that spinny, crappy pitch that’s a ball in the left-handed batter’s box the whole time. I was just trusting it in the zone.”
8 – Combined total of called strikes on Gray’s four-seam fastball and sinker. Both pitches averaged 93 mph.
“When a guy is on like that, you’ve got to be ready early in the count and get ready to hit a fastball,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “When we’re taking them for strikes, it’s tough. All of a sudden, now you’re hitting with two strikes an at-bat, and then it’s really tough.”
Leading off the game against Stephen Strasburg, Eugenio Suárez gave the Reds a 1-0 lead by hitting a 3-1 pitch to right-center field for a homer — his second of the series and 11th overall.
In the Reds’ fifth inning, some luck came Cincinnati’s way. With one out and batting for himself, Gray hit a comebacker off Strasburg’s foot up in the air for a single and hustled to first base.
“My uncle, Ralph, he texted me two games ago and I hit like a ground ball to second and I was just kind of jogging down to first,” Gray said. “He texted me after the game, he basically said, ‘Run your [butt] down to first base, that’s what got you there. You hit the ball, you run.’ I was kind of like, I just responded, ‘OK. Yes sir. OK. I will.’”
Following a two-out walk to Suárez, Winker hit a ball up the middle. Shortstop Trea Turner appeared poised to field it cleanly until it skipped off the bag at second base for an RBI single that scored Gray. Next was Tyler Naquin, who blooped a ball that landed just inside the left-field foul line for an RBI double and a three-run Cincinnati lead.
“Any time you can add on, whether it’s one or two, against a guy like Strasburg, it’s huge. Sonny was lights out. Once we got up, 3-0, you go out and make a play if it happens to come to you,” Winker said.
After a one-out single by Juan Soto in the first inning, Gray retired 16 of his next 17 batters with only an infield hit by Turner allowed in the third inning. After that hit, he retired nine in a row.
The Nationals notched their lone walk with two outs in the sixth by Soto, but Gray gloved a hot 115.8 mph grounder back to the mound from Josh Bell to keep his shutout going. The ball also caught some of Gray’s fingers on his pitching hand, causing them to sting a bit.
That’s about when manager David Bell decided to give the ball to Sims for the seventh inning.
“It was possible that Sonny would go back out,” Bell said. “I think that just made the decision easier for me. I did talk to Sonny. He was in a little bit of pain. I think it really is, even for a pitcher, a little bit shocking to get a ball hit that hard back at you.”
Following a 1-6 homestand, the Reds got two road wins while beating Strasburg and Nationals ace Max Scherzer.
“I think a lot of good things happened this series to be able to win two out of three against this team,” Bell said.