WASHINGTON – Right-hander Jackson Rutledge, a first-round pick by the Nationals in 2019, is one of several pitchers who has been part of both the 60-player pool and Instructional League in this unusual season.
Other minor-leaguers who have also been in Virginia and Florida the past few weeks include Cade Cavalli, a first-round pick in 2020; Tim Cate, a second-round selection in 2018; and Jake Irvin, drafted in the fourth round in 2018.
“I think the biggest difference it is team-oriented in Instructs,” Rutledge told Federal Baseball from Florida this week.
“In Fredericksburg, it was about getting yourself ready and getting ready for your (possible) call-up and do what you need to do.”
“Now we are having team meetings, we are talking about the game more,” he added. “With the intrasquad games, everyone stays and watches. We have had a lot of intrasquad games and sim games to help guys who were not in Fredericksburg to catch up.”
Rutledge learned a lot from the alternate site this summer, as he got to pitch to hitters with a Major League pedigree. “I think the big takeaway … I learned how to pitch to my strengths,” he said.
After alternate camp, Rutledge made the drive from Virginia to his condo in West Palm Beach along with his father, who flew to the nation’s capital region to help his son with the long drive south to Florida.
Rutledge is slated to pitch on Saturday and could face the Marlins; the Nationals are slated to host the Marlins that day. “That is the plan; that can always change,” Rutledge said.
Have things changed for Rutledge since leaving the alternate site?
“In a lot of ways it stays the same,” he said. “I stay on the same lifting routine throughout the week. I am just getting ready for that fifth day when I am throwing off the mound in an intrasquad game, or sim game or against the Marlins. I think the workload has gone down a little bit as far as pitching off the mound.”
Rutledge, 21, has been working on his curve and change in side sessions and also focusing on how he can use them more effectively in a game situation.
The native of Missouri has been around pitching instructors such as Justin Lord, who was slated to be at Single-A Fredericksburg this season; Double-A Harrisburg pitching coach Sam Narron; and Mark Grater, the rehab pitching coordinator.
Rutledge will leave Florida later this month, go home and see his family in Missouri for a few weeks then head back to West Palm Beach to work out this winter.
“I have spent a lot of my childhood in St. Louis and spent a lot of time there,” he said. “I will miss my family, but I can be around some of the guys who are at the same level (in the minors) or ahead of me even. I can learn from them. Also, the warm weather can make a huge difference with an off-season throwing program on a real field.”
Rutledge, after signing in 2019 out of a junior college in Texas, made 10 starts at three different levels.
He ended up at low Single-A Hagerstown, where he had an ERA of 2.30 in six starts. Overall he is 2-0, 3.13 with a WHIP of 0.99 at the pro level.
Rutledge allowed no runs in three innings in his first IL appearance last week. That was the first time he faced hitters from a different organization this year.
“Thanks to a great Cody Wilson play in center,” he said of his shutout performance.
Wilson, a 13th-round pick by the Nationals in 2018 out of Division I Florida Atlantic, advanced to Single-A Hagerstown last year, as did Rutledge.
“It was very different, it felt great,” Rutledge said of facing the Marlins. “The biggest thing I was excited for was I could throw inside to guys and not feel bad” after facing players in his own system in Virginia this summer.
He said the protocols due to the pandemic are similar in Florida than they were in Virginia.
“They are pretty similar,” he said. “We still have testing twice a week. Bars are off limits, restaurants and things like that.”