Josiah Gray Shines In Duel With MacKenzie Gore

Image credit: Josiah Gray (Steve Saenz/Rancho Cucamonga Quakes)

RANCHO CUCAMONGA, Calif. — Josiah Gray has been at high Class A Rancho Cucamonga barely a month and already has a reputation as one of the fiercest competitors on the team.

A marquee showdown opposite touted pitching prospect MacKenzie Gore? That’s the type of matchup Gray lives for.

Gray pitched seven innings of one-run ball in a clash of two of the California League’s top pitchers, and Rancho Cucamonga (Dodgers) beat Lake Elsinore (Padres), 3-2, in 10 innings Friday night.

Gray, the Dodgers’ No. 19 prospect, pitched seven innings, allowed six hits and one run, didn’t walk anyone and struck out six. He took a no-decision but kept Rancho Cucamonga in the game as it scuffled through seven hitless innings against Gore and the Lake Elsinore bullpen.

“I’ve watched (Gore) because I follow the draft pretty heavily and I think he’s a great pitcher,” Gray said. “That gave me a little extra edge going into the game just because I knew there would be a lot of people watching and he’s as highly touted as they come. I’m still just trying to make a name for myself so it was just like, ‘Go out there and show what I can do.’”

Gray did that and more. The 21-year old righthander retired the final 13 batters he faced, didn’t allow a hit after the third inning and held his 93-96 mph fastball velocity into the seventh.

He finished with a flourish, striking out Connor Panas and Tirso Ornelas swinging through 95 mph fastballs to end his evening.

“It was pretty typical for how he’s gone about things,” Rancho Cucamonga manager Mark Kertenian said. “He’s very competitive and composed at the same time. He used his pitches the right way, he didn’t try to overpitch any batter . . . Ultimately it just came down to him not giving in to hitters and maintaining a really aggressive attack.”

Gray’s fastball was his primary weapon. It ran into righties and away from lefties with running life, stayed out of the middle of the plate and remained a swing-and-miss pitch from start to finish.

Gray’s hard, 85-88 mph slider was sporadic but got swings and misses in the strike zone at its best to give him a second effective offering. His firm, 89-91 mph changeup was his least effective pitch of the night, but he didn’t need to use it much.

The only run Gray allowed came on a misplay in the second inning. Panas’ fly ball to shallow center field dropped in for a bloop double on a miscommunication between shortstop Jeter Downs and center fielder Jeren Kendall, and Eguy Rosario singled Panas home two batters later.

After that, Gray buckled down and faced the minimum the rest of the way.

“Just getting strike one, that’s my game,” said Gray, who threw a first-pitch strike to 15 of the 24 batters he faced. “Be aggressive, attack the zone. I know my stuff plays when I’m in the zone.

“It’s not that I fell behind when I gave up those four hits and the run, it was just (about) continuing to be aggressive in the zone and allow the movement to play and let these guys fly out and let them ground out and get a strikeout. That felt good to have it play out like that.”

Gore pitched four no-hit innings before running up against his prescribed 75-pitch limit. He was perfect through three innings but ran into trouble in the fourth when he briefly lost the strike zone. Gore walked the bases loaded to open the frame, but he recovered to get a strikeout, a sacrifice fly and another strikeout to limit the damage to one run.

Gore, the No. 4 prospect on the BA Top 100, walked three and struck out six in a no-decision. He closed out the first half with a Cal League-leading 1.21 ERA.

“It was really good to see him because I’ve never seen him throw before,” Gray said. “He lived up to the hype and I thought he was a really good competitor.”

A two-way player at Division II Le Moyne (N.Y.) who only began to focus solely on pitching a year ago, Gray has rapidly become one of the better pitchers in the Dodgers’ organization since coming over from the Reds in the trade for Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp and Alex Wood last offseason.

Gray logged a 1.93 ERA in five starts at low Class A Great Lakes to begin the year, earned a promotion to high Class A and now has a 2.38 ERA with 42 strikeouts and six walks in 34 innings over his last six starts at Rancho Cucamonga.

He would rank fifth in the Cal League in ERA if he had enough innings to qualify.

“I think he’s elevated himself to the level by just being at the level,” Kertenian said. “He’s a very talented guy. We’re very happy to have him here in the organization. When he gets out there and competes like that, it settles everybody into their place.”

Downs, who came to the Dodgers with Gray in the trade with the Reds, won it for Rancho Cucamonga with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 10th.

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