Rutledge’s First MLB W:
Going into the first game of Sunday’s doubleheader in D.C., Washington Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez said he was excited to see 24-year-old, 2019 Nationals’ 19 first round draft pick Jackson Rutledge go up against an Atlanta Braves’ roster which started the day with a major league-leading .276/.343/.502 line as a team, tops in the majors across the line.
For the rookie right-hander, Martinez said, it would be a great test.
“Oh, 100%,” he said in his pregame press conference in Nationals Park.
“This is a tough lineup 1-9. But I really feel like if [he] can throw strikes [he] can handle it.”
It was a good test for Rutledge, Joan Adon, who started the second game, and the whole Nationals’ roster.
“In order to compete and be the best, you got to play against the best, and obviously right now the Atlanta Braves are at the top, so we’ve got to continue to develop, know what our plans is, but these guys get the chance to go out there and face some of the best hitters in the game today, so I’m looking forward to watching them compete,” Martinez said.
Rutledge struggled in his MLB debut, but bounced back with a solid start the second time out in the majors, and his manager wanted to see him build on that second outing.
“I just want him to go out there, and just like we always talk about: compete. Throw strikes, get ahead. Get ahead, stay ahead. Build off his last outing.
“[Rutledge] threw the ball really well his last outing, so build off of that one.”
In five innings on the mound, in what ended up a 3-2 win in which he earned his first major league W, Rutledge competed against the Braves, holding the visiting team to three hits, to two walks, and one earned run, just one, with a leadoff walk, one-out single — which put runners on the corners — and a sac fly in the second bringing in the only run the 6’7’’ starter allowed in the start.
Rutledge retired the side in order in the third, worked around a leadoff walk in the top of the fourth, then stranded a one-out double in his fifth and final inning of work, striking out MVP candidate Ronald Acuña, Jr. with a 3-2 fastball up high on his 86th pitch of the game.
Jackson Rutledge, Elevated 95mph ⛽️ pic.twitter.com/Lx7apqPEyN— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 24, 2023
It was 2-1 at the time, and the Nationals added a run in the sixth, which ended up being an important one when the Braves’ Sean Murphy homered off Kyle Finnegan in the top of the ninth inning.
“He was good,” Martinez said of Rutledge’s outing after the one-run win.
“We just got to get him to get ahead. He fell behind a lot of guys, but he pitched out of it, and he finished strong.
“It’s a big moment there for him in the fifth,” the manager continued, “and he did good, so I’m proud of him to stay in there, but we got to get him to start pitching — his 3-0 pitches should be 0-0 ... 3-0, he bears down, but that should be the 0-0 counts where he does that from the get-go.
“But he did well, and I’m proud of him. He got a big out there in a big moment, but he did really well.”
Rutledge said Pitching Coach Jim Hickey delivered a similar message about getting ahead of hitters early in the game.
“Kind of what we talked about in that second-third inning,” he said. “Hickey came over and said we’ve got to cut down on the 3-2 counts, had too many of them. But really, this year, I’ve done a really good job in 3-2 counts, which is maybe a good thing or a bad thing, I don’t know, but I think I just continued that and had full confidence with whatever I was throwing in those counts, and just obviously happy to have the results that I had today, and got to in the future cut down on them.”
It was another solid start for Rutledge, and his manager said the starter is making a strong impression given a late-season opportunity.
“I like what I’m seeing. I like the fact that he bears down, he gets in there, and he’s pitching in big moments and doing good,” Martinez said.
“Today was a little bit of a growth moment with him, with that big out there at the end, so we got to continue to build from that.”
“They’re a really good lineup at adjusting,” Rutledge said of going up against the Braves’ 100-win lineup.
“So it’s kind of a cat and mouse game of what are they thinking, what am I thinking, mixing pitches a lot, and the two-seam and the four-seam thing, kind of switch throughout the game based on kind of what they were seeing and what I was seeing, and that’s the fun thing about having five pitches, is I can manipulate that a lot.”
His thoughts going into the matchups with Acuña, Jr., who started the day with the second-highest fWAR mark on the year (8.2 fWAR), the second-highest average (.353), highest OBP (.415), and 4th-highest SLG (.597) in the majors so far in 2023?
“Certainly, I guess, before the game it was a little bit more stressful than it was during the game,” Rutledge explained.
“I think when I got on the mound and saw him in the box, he’s just another guy. And kind of more saw the scouting report. Obviously, I know the spots where I can’t miss with him.
“Obviously, he beat me the first at-bat (single), hit a ball hard, on a mildly executed slider, not fully-executed, but really that third at-bat, just having confidence to go out, there was no panic, 3-2, there was no worry. It was just: ‘I know where I’m going to put this pitch. And if I get it there, I’m going to beat him.’ And I did.”
Doing what he did taught Rutledge a valuable lesson.
“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.”