“It was pretty much spot-on to what I was expecting, to be honest,” 2019 1st Round pick Jackson Rutledge said of his debut in the majors last week in PNC Park.
“Beautiful stadium, beautiful place to play,” the 24-year-old told reporters.
Things didn’t go as he hoped, however, with the 6’7’’ starter giving up 10 hits, and seven runs, six of the hits, and four of the runs, in a 33-pitch first which threatened to end his outing real early.
“Obviously I dreamed of a better first inning,” Rutledge acknowledged after hanging in there for 3 2⁄3 innings and 90 pitches, “but … it will be better next time.”
Once he got through the first, Rutledge said, he was able to settle in a little.
“I think I mixed pitches better,” he said. “I think I kind of use the bottom of the zone better.
“My bread and butter is getting ground balls and I didn’t get very many tonight, which is kind of telltale [sign] of [the] part of the zone that I was using. Probably overusing the four-seam a little bit.
“Later in the game, used the two-seamer a little bit more and had some success. And eventually brought out the curveball and got a quick out, and that’s something I’d like to continue to do.”
“When he started throwing the ball down in the zone, getting on top of the ball, the ball came out really well,” manager Davey Martinez said after the outing.
“Overall, his stuff is good. We just got to get him to throw more strikes, get ahead of hitters. First inning, he threw some pretty good pitches. He just got dinged a little bit there. But overall, I thought he did okay for the first outing, I really did. I’m not going to look at the runs. But he made some pretty good pitches. So we’ll get him back out there in five or six days.”
Going into Rutledge’s second start, the skipper in D.C. said he wanted to see the righty try to relax out there and do what he’s been doing all season in the minors which earned him the opportunity he’s getting right now.
“I think he’ll be a little more relaxed today, I really do,” Martinez said in his pregame meeting with reporters. “He was amped up his first game. I want to see him kind of slow down a little bit and just kind of get to that next pitch. Hopefully we’ll see a big difference in that today.
“First start, for everybody, is usually you get a little amped up, so hopefully he kind of calms down a little bit ... and understands about throwing strike one, which is the big thing — and staying ahead of hitters, so we’ll see how he does today.”
He did really well, actually.
Rutledge gave up two runs on six hits (both runs on homers), walked one, struck out two, and was efficient as well, with just 78 pitches (53 strikes) in 6 1⁄3 IP in what ended up a 4-3 win over the Chicago White Sox.
He generated 10 swinging and 10 called strikes overall, and got nine ground ball outs (up from just one in his debut).
Luis Robert, Jr. hit a first-pitch changeup Rutledge left over the middle of the plate for the first of two homers off the starter in the fourth, and that was all for the Sox through six, so with his pitch count relatively low (73 after six), his manager sent him back out for the top of the seventh, and Yoan Moncada hit the second home run in the first at-bat, on a curve low in the zone, but knee-high and over the middle. Rutledge got one more out before he was done for the night.
“It was good,” Martinez said after Joey Meneses hit a three-run blast to put the home team on top in the bottom of the seventh and the Nationals held on for a win.
Martinez liked the way his starter bounced back.
“We harped on it for 5-6 days now, about, ‘Hey, forget about that one. Just get to the next one and move on from that. Learn from your mistakes, and like the biggest thing we told him: ‘You got to slow yourself down and stay in the moment. Don’t get ahead of yourself.’ And he did that tonight.”
“For me, I just feel like I’m moving at a normal speed,” Rutledge said of his ability to work quickly and efficiently in the outing.
Jackson Rutledge bounced back to pitch 6 1/3 strong innings against the White Sox.— Nationals on MASN (@masnNationals) September 20, 2023
Hear from the rookie after his first quality start! pic.twitter.com/pXWh7vChxb
“I tend to get ahead of myself every once in a while, but I’m actually slowing myself down. It feels slow to me. It might not look it, but that’s just kind of how I’ve always worked.”
Asked what was different this time around, Rutledge said he was able to get into a routine this time after the whirlwind of his debut.
“I think the big thing of this game compared to last is that I had pitched in the last 10 days,” he explained.” Obviously last time out it was kind of tough skipping a start and then coming into [my debut]. This time I just felt more in a routine. I was about to start getting in a real solid routine with all the trainers and all the staff here. Definitely helped. And just felt really comfortable out there, felt like my team had my back.”
“One, he was a lot calmer,” Martinez said. “Two, he attacked the strike zone. He really did. Good fastball today. Threw the ball well. Located some balls that were good, but I love the fact that he went out and attacked the strike zone.”
Rutledge said the key was attacking particularly down in the zone, and getting ahead of the hitters.
“Definitely getting ahead of guys,” he said. “I did a lot better job than that. And establishing the bottom of the zone. [Catcher Drew] Millas works really well back there, I think probably stole me a couples strikes, which is always nice, and just got in the zone early with the sinker, and a heavy right-handed lineup, that’s going to be the attack for me, is a lot of sinker/slider, and did that well at the bottom of the zone.”
To see Rutledge rise to the challenge, and respond to his first outing with a solid start did impress his manager.
“He bounced back, kept his heartbeat down, and pitched really, really well. That team can hit, so it was good, it was nice.”
“He had a good tempo, good rhythm. Once he got through that first inning, I think he really knew that, ‘Hey, all I’ve got to do is throw strikes.’
“It makes things a lot easier for him when he pumps strikes. He settled down throughout the game, and he was really good.”