by Spenser Brown

Sonny Gray’s best outing of 2021 gives Reds series win over Nationals

The last time the Reds won a series was the second week of May against Pittsburgh. When Wednesday night’s game was suspended, it was announced Thursday night would be a seven inning affair. With Sonny Gray facing off against Stephen Strasburg in the truncated series finale, we figured to see a pitchers duel.

Gray made the pitching duel a little more one sided, as he delivered his best performance of the season, spinning six shutout frames before passing the ball to Lucas Sims to close out a much needed series win. The Reds pushed their record to 10-3 in seven inning games on Thursday night, as the modified games have become a strength for the organization since the start of the 2020 season.


Offense

When David Bell moved Eugenio Suarez to the leadoff spot on Tuesday, many Reds fans were skeptical of the decision. After enduring a terrible first two months of the season, Suarez showed signs of turning the corner during the first two games in Washington, and continued his improvement early on Thursday night.

Facing Stephen Strasburg to begin the game, Suarez launched a leadoff home run, a 102.7 MPH blast to right center field. With a 1-0 lead, Jesse Winker was hit by a pitch, but would not advance any further as the Reds were set down in order after the first two hitters reached.

With one out in the second inning, Max Schrock laced a 107.4 MPH double into the right field corner. He would ultimately be stranded after Strasburg induced two soft ground balls from Sonny Gray and Alex Blandino.

Strasburg got the Reds to go in order in the third and fourth inning, and did not allow another base runner until Gray shot a 93.5 MPH single off his foot with one out in the fifth inning. Following a Blandino strikeout, Gray advanced to second on a Suarez walk. With two outs, Winker delivered another big hit, as his 101.1 MPH ground ball up the middle hit the second base bag, skipping over Trea Turner’s head and into center field, scoring Gray to give the Reds a 2-0 lead.

After getting lucky on a hard hit ball, Tyler Naquin got some BABIP luck with a 70.5 MPH double into short left field, plating Suarez to extend the lead to 3-0. Tyler Stephenson smoked a 103.9 MPH drive to center field that was run down by Andrew Stephenson (no relation), ending the threat.

The sixth inning was fairly quiet for the Reds, with only Schrock reaching base. Schrock played well in a spot start, as he had the early 107.4 MPH double, followed by a deep fly out to right field, and a perfectly placed 97.1 MPH single to beat the shift.

Blandino reached on an error opening the seventh, as Starlin Castro bobbled a ground ball to his left. Suarez had a pop out to short center field for the first out, before Winker had a long foul-out to Schwarber, who ran into the wall in the left field corner. Schwarber would make another nice grab to rob Naquin of his second hit of the night, as he ran down a ball in the left-center gap to end the inning.

Overall, the Reds had a .256 xBA and six hits as a team. While it wasn’t their most potent night at the plate, they were able to produce 10 hard-hit balls in total, including seven against Strasburg.

Pitching

Coming off an impressive start against Milwaukee, Sonny Gray had a chance to give the Reds a big series win in Washington.

The first inning was mostly a breeze for Gray, who worked around a 110.1 MPH single from Juan Soto by getting two pop outs and a strikeout of Kyle Schwarber.

For the next three innings, Gray was successful in getting swinging strikes and inducing soft contact from Nationals hitters. In the second, he set down the side in order, with all three balls being put in play under 80 MPH. Andrew Stephenson had a soft pop out beginning the third, followed by a Strasburg strikeout. Gray was unlucky to allow a 66.3 MPH single to Turner, but got it back when Soto drilled a 103.3 MPH groundout to end the inning.

Schwarber and Josh Bell both grounded out in the fourth, and then Gray had maybe his best pitch of the night, getting Starlin Castro to strikeout looking on 94.1 MPH sinker with 24 inches of downward break. He continued his consistent night by getting a 63.4 MPH groundout opening the fifth, before striking out both Yan Gomes (swinging) and Stephenson (looking).

Gray started showing signs of slowing down in the sixth, as Yadiel Hernandez nearly took him deep on a 97.9 MPH fly out to the warning track in left field. He did a great job of fielding his position for the second out, as Turner smoked a 100.6 MPH comeback shot that Gray corralled. After a four pitch walk to Soto, Gray once again had to field his position, as Bell crushed a 115.8 MPH (hardest hit ball of the night) line drive. Luckily for Gray, it hit his glove and landed at his feet, giving him ample time to throw to Blandino and end the inning.

Across the six innings and 90 pitches he threw, Gray allowed just two hits, one walk, and five hard-hit balls. He struck out five and held the Nationals to an xBA under .200, turning in his best start of 2021. Check out this overlay of Gray’s fastball and curveball.

David Bell turned to Lucas Sims to close the game for the Reds, as he tried to get his second save of the series. Schwarber led off the inning and struck out looking on a 96.1 MPH four-seam fastball from Sims. Castro followed with a tapper back to Sims, who easily threw him out. Luis Garcia was the last chance for the Nationals, and he ultimately flew out to Akiyama, giving the Reds the series win.

Stats

Most Valuable Players

  • Sonny Gray: +31.9 WPA (Win Probability Added)
  • Jesse Winker: +12.9 WPA
  • Lucas Sims: +11.8 WPA

Hardest-Hit Balls

  • Shogo Akiyama: 108 mph | Fielders choice in 1st inning
  • Max Schrock: 107.4 mph | Double in 2nd inning
  • Tyler Stephenson: 103.9 mph | Lineout in 5th inning

Unluckiest Out of the Day

  • Tyler Stephenson: .710 xBA | Lineout in 5th inning

Highest Velocities By Pitcher

  • Lucas Sims: 97.2 mph
  • Lucas Sims: 96.2 mph
  • Lucas Sims: 96.1 mph

Highest Pitch Spins

  • Lucas Sims: 3,430 rpm | Curveball

Most Pitch Movement

  • Sonny Gray: 66 inches vertical movement | Curveball

Team Expected Batting Averages (xBA)

  • Nationals: .174
  • Reds: .256
What’s Next?

The Reds open a crucial three game set against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Vladimir Gutierrez makes his MLB debut against Adbert Alzolay. First pitch is at 2:20 EST.


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Spenser Brown is a lifelong Reds fan born and raised in Cincinnati. He spent many days as a kid at Great American Ball Park with his parents and sister sitting in Section 119, where his Grandfather was the usher. He is a graduate of Ohio University and currently resides in Columbus, but returns to Cincinnati to attend games throughout the summer. You can follow him on Twitter at @spenserbrown_, where he is most commonly tweeting about the Reds or Ohio State Football.

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pinson343
pinson343
7 months ago

The Reds like 7 inning games and the new extra inning format. I didn’t know 7 inning games would still be around this year.

pinson343
pinson343
7 months ago

I wonder how many teams have beaten Strasburg and Scherzer in the same series. Of course, Strasburg was not in mid-season form.

Thomas Green
Thomas Green
7 months ago
Reply to  pinson343

It certainly doesn’t feel like the Reds have ever done it before – good to get a series win in a less than likely scenario. Perhaps it can be a spark for a team that needs it.