Dodgers top pitching prospect Josiah Gray will make his major league debut on Tuesday against the Giants, filling in for a depleted starting rotation. The right-hander was at Dodger Stadium on Monday, throwing on the field before the series opener.
His role on Tuesday is still to be determined, though he is expected to pitch bulk innings.
“The plan is for him to be activated tomorrow. Coming out of tonight, we’ll know more as far as his role for tomorrow’s game,” manager Dave Roberts said Monday. “As far as role — start, come in behind an opener — we’re still going to talk through that.”
Gray would have made his debut earlier in the year, stepping in after Dustin May’s Tommy John surgery in May. But Gray had a right shoulder impingement of his own that sidelined him for two months.
Since returning to Triple-A Oklahoma City’s rotation on July 4, the 23-year-old Gray has 12 strikeouts and no walks in 10⅔ innings in three games, allowing three runs on five hits. In his last game Thursday, Gray threw 68 pitches and struck out seven in 4⅔ innings, just shy of the five innings Roberts has described as the floor before Gray might be called up.
The first two of those comeback outings for Gray were starts, and his last game on Thursday came after left-hander Justin Bruihl pitched the first inning.
Gray helps fill a void with Clayton Kershaw and his forearm inflammation sidelined until August, depleting a Dodgers rotation that is also without Trevor Bauer for the foreseeable future as Bauer is being investigated for assault by both Major League Baseball and the Pasadena police department.
With the trade deadline 11 days away, the Dodgers rotation even with Gray includes Tony Gonsolin, who missed two months with shoulder inflammation and has pitched longer than four innings only once in seven starts this season, and David Price, who has pitched mostly in relief all year and has yet to be stretched out beyond four innings.
On the season, Dodgers starters lead the majors in strikeout rate (28.8 percent) and ERA (2.97), are second in walk rate (6.5 percent), and third in FIP (3.49). They also rank third in innings pitched (5.45 per start), but in July have used four planned bullpen games in 14 games, not counting the three-inning start by Price. That’s not sustainable for any length of time, especially for a taxed bullpen that has already used 17 pitchers in relief this month.
The Dodgers acquired Gray along with shortstop Jeter Downs from the Reds in December 2018, a prospect haul for Los Angeles in an otherwise mostly financial agreement that saw the salaries of Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood swapped for Homer Bailey. Downs was part of the February 2020 trade with Boston to get Mookie Betts.
Wood starts Tuesday for the Giants.
Before this season, Gray was a consensus top-70 prospect on various national lists. The lowest of those rankings was 68th by Baseball America, who upped him to No. 54 in their midseason ranking update, noting, “The converted infielder has blossomed on the mound and stands as the best pitching prospect in an excellent system.”
“It would be hard to say [prospect rankings] don’t strike my interest from time to time, but I truly try not to pay any attention to it,” Gray said in May. “Those things, I try not to get too caught up over. You can be number one in all of baseball, but if you’re not going out there every night and putting up the numbers and helping your team win, then that stuff doesn’t mean so much.”
Gray was the Dodgers minor league pitcher of the year in 2019, and spent 2020 at the alternate training site at USC. Since joining the organization, the right-hander has a 2.35 ERA in 145 innings across four levels, with 169 strikeouts and 33 walks. This season, he has a 38.6-percent strikeout rate in Triple-A.
If Gray starts on Tuesday, at 23 years, 211 days old on Tuesday, he’d be the 12th Dodgers pitcher 24 or younger to start in his major league debut in this century.
The Dodgers will need to make corresponding move(s) to add Gray to both the active and 40-man rosters.