“He’s a big angle guy, so he’s a 6’7’’ guy who comes really downhill at hitters,” Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo told reporters in offering a scouting report on 2019 1st Round pick Jackson Rutledge before the 24-year-old right-hander made his MLB debut this past September.
“He’s got a very deceptive, short-arm delivery. He kind of spits the ball out of his jersey. He’s mid-to-upper 90s on his fastball, he’s got a good breaking pitch, an assortment of breaking pitches, and a changeup that has really come on in the last year or so, so we’re looking forward to him getting his feet wet, making his debut, getting a few starts in the big leagues before the season ends, and then coming to Spring Training and trying to battle for one of the five starter spots that will be available in ‘24.”
Rutledge ended up making four starts down the stretch, giving up 24 hits and 15 runs in 20 innings pitched (for a 6.75 ERA, and a 5.86 FIP), over which he walked six, and struck out 12, with opposing hitters putting up a combined .304/.364/.519 line against him.
“He has been — not I would say written off,” Rizzo said in advance of Rutledge’s first big league outing, “but when you’re in the minor leagues, and you come from a junior college program — which is going to take you a little bit longer than if you come from an SEC program or that type of thing, and then he got nicked up a couple times and kind of struggled with that, but the last two years he’s been solid, he’s taken the ball every fifth day, which is what we’re trying to accomplish here at the big league level and the minor league level for these pitchers — because so many of them get hurt — is to finish a full season happy and healthy and progressing in the right direction, and I think that [Rutledge] has shown from his A-ball progression to Double-A and Triple-A, he’s earned the right to debut in the big leagues.”
In 23 starts and 119 IP this year between Double- and Triple-A in the Nats’ system, Rutledge put up a combined 3.71 ERA, with 55 walks (4.16 BB/9), 106 strikeouts (8.02 K/9), a .227 BAA, and a 1.27 WHIP, (with a 3.16 ERA in 12 starts with AA Harrisburg, and a 4.44 ERA in 11 starts at AAA Rochester), earning the late season opportunity to pitch in the majors.
“Regardless of how he finishes this year,” Rizzo said going into the first of Rutledges’ four starts in the majors, “... he’s going to be a big part of what we do here and with the Nationals moving forward with the rest of that young rotation and the young guys in the minor leagues that we have.
“We’re excited about [Josiah] Gray, [MacKenzie] Gore, [Jake] Irvin in the big leagues, and then you’ve got Rutledge and Cole Henry, and [Jake] Bennett, and [Cade] Cavalli and that group of guys that will all be in the big leagues sometime in the near future.”
“He made some adjustments down there,” manager Davey Martinez said when asked why Rutledge got the nod, “… especially gathering himself when things get a little awry.”
“I’m happy about his progression and his development,” Rizzo added. “I think he’s earned the opportunity to pitch in the big leagues. It’s going to be fun to see him pitch a couple times in the big leagues before this season ends.”
Rutledge battled nerves and struggled in his debut, but was thrilled and exhausted after making his first start in the majors.
“Definitely it was a whirlwind,” Rutledge said.
“I found out yesterday in the morning and basically drove through the rain straight over here. Just telling my family was amazing and being able to kind of share that with them was something I’ll never forget.
“Obviously, tonight didn’t go the way I wanted, but I’m a big leaguer and no one can take that from me. I’m going to be better next time out and today’s over.”
Rutledge was better in his next two starts for the Nats (posting a 2.38 ERA, 5.29 FIP, and a .231/.279/.436 line against in 11 1⁄3 IP), before he struggled in his final outing this year.
Jackson Rutledge, Elevated 95mph ⛽️ pic.twitter.com/Lx7apqPEyN— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 24, 2023
“When he throws strikes,“ Martinez said in assessing Rutledge’s run in the majors at the end of the season. “He can compete, and that’s the biggest thing. He actually said it to me when I took him out of the game. He said, ‘I just got to have some conviction and throw the ball over the plate.’ And I said, ‘Hey, if you can do that, you can pitch here and help us for a long time. Your stuff is good, but you got to attack the strike zone. The way he finished off and got some big outs the last inning, that was impressive. So we got to build from that.”
Rutledge (who gave up five runs on five hits in two walks in his final start, going up against the NL East champion Atlanta Braves), told reporters after the outing it was real fun to test himself against an offense like the Braves’ offense.
“It just tells me that I belong here,” he said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman. “I can do it against ... one of the best lineups in baseball. I’m able to have success. That kind of gives me confidence moving forward.”