After "brutal" April, Rutledge finally in a groove

CHICAGO – Jackson Rutledge was enjoying his off-day in Rochester, playing video games, when the call came Monday evening. He didn’t recognize the number, so he didn’t pick up at first. When he realized it was Red Wings developmental coach Billy McMillon, he realized he should probably call back.

Sure enough, Rutledge was informed the Nationals’ series opener against the White Sox had been rained out. The two teams would now be playing a doubleheader, and the right-hander needed to pack his things and prepare for a 6:30 a.m. flight to Chicago so he could serve as the team’s 27th man for the day.

Rutledge, who had just thrown 91 pitches Saturday in Scranton and had no reason to believe he’d be appearing in another game until later this week, was understandably caught off guard.

“A little bit of a surprise,” he said. “But I’m happy to be here.”

Truth be told, Rutledge probably figured all along he’d be the first starter called up from Triple-A if a spot in the Nationals rotation opened up. But when that very scenario occurred last month, with Opening Day starter Josiah Gray going on the 15-day injured list with a forearm strain, the call went not to Rutledge but to left-hander Mitchell Parker.

Rutledge understood why he wasn’t the choice at the time. His season got off to a ragged start, with Rochester’s schedule disrupted by a number of rainouts. And only days after Gray went on the IL, he took a sharp comebacker off his lower right leg and feared he broke his ankle in the process.

Parker, of course, went on to win his major league debut at Dodger Stadium, then shut out the Astros over seven innings his next start. And he’s slated to make his sixth career start tonight against the White Sox, boasting a 2-1 record and 2.67 ERA.

“First of all, I want to say Mitch is one of my best friends,” said Rutledge, who was Parker’s teammate at San Jacinto Junior College before each was drafted by the Nationals. “I’m super happy for him. It’s awesome to see him shove. For me, I think I might’ve been on crutches, or walking in a boot, because I thought I broke my ankle when I got hit. It turned out OK and I ended up making my next start just fine. But I completely understand it.

“Since then, I’ve worked on more stuff and I feel like I’ve gotten better. Everything happens for a reason. I feel like I’m in a better place now than I was even a few weeks ago.”

Rutledge’s overall numbers at Rochester (2-2, 6.33 ERA, 1.630 WHIP) aren’t anything to get excited about. But he’s finally on a regular routine, completing at least five innings in each of his last three starts and tossed six scoreless frames nine days ago against Syracuse.

He’s only here for the day, only here in case he’s needed to throw a couple innings of relief, but he feels like he’s on the right track to earn a more permanent promotion before long.

“I feel like I’m finally in a rhythm,” he said. “It was a brutal first month. I got rained out after two innings one game. I got a 111-mph line drive off the ankle. Just stupid stuff that kept happening. I wasn’t able to find a rhythm until really a couple weeks ago. Now I’m feeling a lot better. I’m feeling in control of stuff and feeling like I’m in a good place.”

Tonight's Orioles-Blue Jays game postponed due to ...
Game 40 lineups (take two): Nats at White Sox

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