In short start to pro career, Crews showed why he's a top prospect

Dylan Crews Mike Rizzo intro

PROSPECT REVIEW: DYLAN CREWS

Age on opening day 2024: 22

How acquired: Drafted No. 2 overall in 2023 from LSU

Ranking: No. 1 (No. 4 overall) per MLB Pipeline, No. 1 (No. 3 overall) per Baseball America

MLB ETA: 2024
* Projected by MLB Pipeline

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2023 Nats All-Prospect team

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Now that the 2023 season is a wrap, we’ve taken broad looks at the year that was for the Nationals. Individual player reviews will start coming out on a daily basis this week, with Mark Zuckerman handling the major league roster and me taking a look at some of the top prospects.

But before we take a deeper dive into each player's performance, I wanted to have one overarching view of the minor league system in the form of a fun exercise.

Overall, the Nats’ minor league system did not fare too well this year in terms of win-loss records. The Dominican Summer League Nationals finished 11-39, the Florida Complex League Nationals 24-25, Single-A Fredericksburg 65-63, High-A Wilmington 55-75, Double-A Harrisburg 59-77 and Triple-A Rochester 66-80.

But among those results, there were some really strong individual performances.

“The best part of the minor league season was that all the players that we really were looking forward to take a step forward, we believe have,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “We think that was a success in that regard.”

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Nats farm creating competitive and winning culture

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Nationals' general manager Mike Rizzo likes to create competition.

It’s something he talks about every spring training. Whether it’s bringing in an experienced veteran, a struggling journeyman or a rising prospect, the longtime GM has always believed the more competition the better,

He has brought that philosophy to the minor league farm system, as well, adding an influx of young talent over the past couple of years through the draft, trades and international free agent market.

Looking at the Nationals’ top 16 prospects per MLB Pipeline, 10 were drafted by the organization, five were acquired via trade and one was signed as an international free agent. Eight of them at one point played at Double-A Harrisburg, a handful of them together for an extended period of time.

“It's been good. Really just creating competition between those affiliates, like within the affiliates,” said Jackson Rutledge, who made his first 12 starts of the season with Harrisburg before eventually making his major league debut with the Nats two weeks ago. “Even in Harrisburg when we were there, we had so much talent there it was like guys were competing to see who was going to be the dude that week. And that changed from time to time. And I think that's always positive just to have internal competition in a healthy way. And I think we have that. Certainly, a lot of the pitching staffs I've been on there's been a 'Who's gonna be the top guy' sort of competition and I think that just creates a good training environment, a good competition environment. Something that's gonna be good for us.”

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Although not a "success," Nats consider 2023 "encouraging"

Mike Rizzo

The Nationals have undoubtedly been better top to bottom in 2023 than they were in 2022.

At the major league level, they are already on pace for a 15-win improvement from their 55 wins last year. They’ve improved their run differential by more than 100 runs. Their team batting average is more than five percentage points higher, and their team OPS is more than 20 percentage points higher. Their rotation ERA is down by almost a full run, and their WHIP and opponents’ batting average against have also improved.

But with another last-place finish in the National League East coming, their fourth straight since winning the 2019 World Series, the Nats are far from calling this season a success.

“The team's playing better than expected,” said general manager Mike Rizzo. “I don't think that it's a successful season, but it's a very encouraging season. Nobody wants to aim to win 70 games in a season. We want to win 97 games in the season. So that's our goal. That's always been our goal. But this is a good step in the right direction to that. I'm really excited about what's coming down the pike and the players that are going to be the next core group of the championship team that plays in National Park.”

Some of that core group is already playing at Nationals Park.

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An ode to Doolitte, a D.C. legend

Sean Doolittle

It’s a sad, yet happy day in Washington, D.C. One that, unfortunately, was coming sooner rather than later.

Sean Doolittle, the dominant Nationals reliever and fan favorite, announced his retirement today.

Where do you begin with a player and person who has meant so much to an organization and a city?

Let’s start on the field, since he’s retiring from the sport.

After coming over in a 2017 trade with the Athletics, the left-hander, who turns 37 next week, posted a 2.92 ERA, 1.007 WHIP and 75 saves (third-most in club history) over parts of five seasons with the Nats. He earned an All-Star selection in 2018 - the game that year took place at Nationals Park - and played an integral role on the 2019 team that won the World Series.

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Nats announce 2023 Minor League Award winners

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As we get closer to the end of the season, a new season is upon us: award season.

The Nationals kicked things off yesterday by announcing their 2023 Minor League Award winners:

* Hitter of the Year – James Wood
* Pitcher of the Year – Andrew Alvarez
* Defensive Player of the Year – Trey Lipscomb
* Baserunner of the Year – Johnathon Thomas
* Nationals Way Award – Jacob Young

Wood, 21, led the Nats’ minor league system in most offensive categories by setting a lot of career highs: first in home runs (26), RBIs (91) and slugging percentage (.520); second in OPS (.873), doubles (28) and triples (eight); and third in hits (124).

The Nats’ No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline and Baseball America finished the season slashing .262/.353/.520 with 28 doubles, eight triples, 26 home runs, 91 RBIs, 65 walks, 18 stolen bases and 80 runs scored in 129 games between High-A Wilmington and Double-A Harrisburg.

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Irvin's short start sets up blowout loss to Braves (updated)

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Thursday night started with a lot of positive energy for the Nationals.

The team was still relishing Wednesday’s blowout win over the White Sox to clinch a series victory and put them two wins away from their first 70-win season since 2019.

It was Hispanic Heritage Night at the ballpark, so all of the Nats’ Hispanic players, coaches and staff members were recognized during a pregame ceremony.

And the Nats welcomed the Commanders for the first “Capital Crossover” night as the two organizations began to start a new relationship under the football team’s new owner, Josh Harris, who threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

But once the pregame pageantry was over, the daunting challenge of beating the Braves and their major league-best record became real. That task proved too difficult on this night for the Nationals as the positive vibes quickly evaporated in a 10-3 loss in front of an announced crowd of 28,100, many of whom were wearing football gear.

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Martinez gives injury updates, Nats welcome Commanders

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It was a slow afternoon in the Nationals clubhouse as they prepared to welcome the division champion Braves for a four-game series, the last home series of the season.

Per usual, manager Davey Martinez provided some injury updates to begin his pregame press conference ahead of a series opener.

Riley Adams, whose season was ended by a fractured left hamate bone, had successful surgery last week and already is on a good path toward recovery.

“Riley Adams still has his stitches in. He's getting them out,” Martinez said. “He's gonna recover fine. He's already itching (to get back). He's working his hand a little bit, so he's doing well.”

Travis Blankenhorn’s season seems to be over as well. Although he was placed on the 10-day injured list on Tuesday, retroactive back to Sept. 16, he received an injection to treat his plantar fasciitis that will keep him “out for a while,” per Martinez.

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Game 154 lineups: Nats vs. Braves

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Well, this final stretch for the Nationals isn’t going to be easy as they are only two wins away from their first 70-win season since 2019. Their last nine games come against the teams with two best records in the major leagues: The Braves and the Orioles, both of whom still have a lot to play for over the season’s last week.

Entering this four-game series – the last to be played at Nationals Park this year – the Nats have fared a lot better against the Braves this year than they did in 2022. They are already 2-4 against Atlanta this year, not having faced them since early June. Last year, they went an abysmal 5-14 against the division champs.

Jake Irvin has been one of the Nats’ most consistent starters during his rookie year. He’ll make his 24th start tonight, bringing a 3-6 record and 4.34 ERA, which is the second-best in this rotation.

The Nats will face Max Fried for the first time since Opening Day in which the lefty allowed one run over 3 ⅓ innings before departing early with a hamstring injury. He has only made 12 starts since, but is 7-1 with a 2.64 ERA on the season.

The Braves have locked up their sixth straight National League East title, but their magic number to claim the No. 1 seed in the NL is at seven as the Dodgers host the Giants this weekend. Coming into the weekend with the best record in baseball, the Braves’ magic number to clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs is eight against the Orioles.

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With less than two weeks of season left, Nats beginning offseason work

Davey Martinez

The Nationals have 11 games left in the regular season, and while they will try to go 1-0 in every one of them, the organization is already having internal discussions on how they can improve next year.

One thing they’re going to take a hard look at is how they stayed mostly healthy this year, particularly with their pitchers.

The Nationals placed 24 different players on the injured list for 25 different stints last year. So far this year, they have placed 16 different players on the injured list for 17 different stints. Six of those players were placed on the 60-day injured list at the start of the season, with two (Carter Kieboom and Israel Pineda) coming back at some point. Three players (Carl Edwards Jr., Victor Robles and Stone Garrett) were eventually moved to the 60-day IL. And two players (Riley Adams and MacKenzie Gore) only recently landed on the IL.

“One thing we're gonna really look at is how we kept these guys healthy,” said manager Davey Martinez. “Because we're gonna be young again next year. So we'll probably have to map out again some of the things we want to do and definitely use some of the things that we did this year.”

As it pertains to their pitchers, the Nationals have only had eight different pitchers make starts for them throughout this year. Keeping them healthy was a major point of emphasis entering the season after many of their starters dealt with injuries last year or entered this season with an injury history.

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Sloppy Nats shut down by Clevinger after benches clear (updated)

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The Nationals were looking to build off their dramatic win Sunday in Milwaukee and start their final homestand of the season on a strong note. In fact, manager Davey Martinez has mentioned multiple times over the last week the importance of his team finishing the regular season strong heading into the offseason.

Obviously, wins would be nice, but that also includes clean baseball all around.

While welcoming the White Sox, who are the last sub-.500 team they will face this season, to town for three matchups, the Nats did not get off to a good start to these last seven games to be played on South Capitol Street in the 2023 campaign.

The Nats dropped tonight’s opener to the White Sox 6-1 as Mike Clevinger pitched a complete game against the home squad in front of an announced crowd of 20,977 at Nationals Park, with some ugly scenes along the way.

The ugliest from both sides came when benches and bullpens cleared in the bottom of the ninth inning.

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Rainey to throw bullpen, Cavalli might play catch

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As the Nationals get ready to begin their last homestand of the 2023 season, the club is also looking at how it is going to handle two pitchers recovering from Tommy John surgery before the team breaks for the offseason.

Tanner Rainey, still working his way back from his surgery last year, is running out of time to pitch for the Nats this year. The right-hander had always put August as a target date to return to the major leagues, but with only 12 games left in the season, there might not be enough innings to get him into an actual game. After 12 appearances over the last month while on a minor league rehab assignment, Rainey will throw another bullpen session with the Nats on Tuesday.

“We got Rainey here,” manager Davey Martinez said during his pregame session with reporters before the Nats open a three-game series against the White Sox. “He's gonna throw a bullpen. We want to put eyes on him and see where he's at.”

Martinez told reporters over the weekend that Rainey has been working on some mechanical things recently while not feeling totally comfortable returning to a big league mound. Regardless of where he does it, the Nationals want Rainey to continue his throwing program over the next two weeks so he can have a normal offseason and be ready for spring training.

But is there a point in the near future where it wouldn’t make sense to activate Rainey off the 60-day injured list just so he can appear in one or two games?

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Game 151 lineups: Nats vs. White Sox

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Two weeks from tonight, there will be no more Nationals baseball in 2023. So let’s soak in these last 12 games as much as we can.

Joan Adon will make his eighth start since joining the rotation as the sixth man in August. Over his first seven outings, he’s 2-2 with a 6.00 ERA, but the Nats are 5-2 in those games. He gave up four runs on eight hits and a career-high six walks last week in Pittsburgh. Adon has never faced the White Sox, but he is 0-1 with a 5.51 ERA in four interleague games, including three starts.

Mike Clevinger takes the mound for Chicago. One of the White Sox’s better starters, the veteran right-hander is 7-8 with a 3.61 ERA over his 21 starts this year. He has given up just two runs with 14 strikeouts in 13 innings over his last two starts against the Tigers and Royals. Clevinger is 1-1 with a 5.91 ERA in two career starts against the Nationals, including five innings of one-run ball here last year.

The Nationals have officially been eliminated from playoff contention. Although their elimination number is one in the National League Wild Card race, the best they can do is tie the Marlins for the last spot and Miami holds the head-to-head tiebreaker 11-2.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS vs. CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Where: Nationals Park
Gametime: 7:05 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN2, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 The Fan, MLB.com
Weather: Clear, 72 degrees, wind 9 mph from left to right field

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Good friends Rutledge and Millas can laugh about weird play in debut

Jackson Rutledge after hit in head

PITTSBURGH – Everyone involved ended up being OK, so they could laugh about it afterwards. But in the moment, it looked serious and scary.

During Jackson Rutledge’s ragged major league debut on Wednesday, the 24-year-old was most concerned about the 10 hits and seven runs he allowed. Little did he know he needed to be wary of friendly fire, too.

In the bottom of the fourth inning after drawing a one-out walk, Ji Hwan Bae took off to steal second base. Drew Millas, catching his good friend Rutledge’s debut, caught the pitch from the right-hander and popped up to attempt to throw Bae out.

Unfortunately, the ball never reached CJ Abrams covering the bag.

Instead, it ricocheted off the 6-foot-8 pitcher’s head as he attempted to duck out of the way and landed in right field, allowing Bae to advance to third.

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Gray strikes out 10, but Nats shut out by Pirates (updated)

Josiah Gray

PITTSBURGH – Josiah Gray’s last start came 11 days ago on Sept. 3 against the Marlins. He gave up three runs while throwing 86 pitches in just four innings at Nationals Park.

The Nationals decided to give their young starter a little bit of a reset while trying to get out of a bad funk he had been in since the start of August. Over his previous six starts, Gray pitched to an 8.49 ERA, which raised his season ERA from 3.27 to 4.13.

The extra rest and adjustments made in the meantime worked for Gray as he had his best outing since July. But a lack of run support – a familiar foe for Gray – couldn’t back up the strong start in a 2-0 loss to the Pirates in front of an announced crowd of 10,728. At 1 hour and 50 minutes, it was the shortest nine-inning game in Nationals history and tied for the fastest nine-inning game in the major leagues this season.

“Early strikes, first-pitch strikes, finish them off with my whole array of pitches," Gray said after the game. "Just getting ahead early worked a lot today and just believing in my stuff. Using the whole part of the plate. So it was a good day.”

“He was good," said manager Davey Martinez. "He attacked the strike zone. His direction was way better today. Overall, he threw the ball really well.”

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Reinstated from IL, Ward rediscovered confidence during rehab

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PITTSBURGH – The Nationals made an early morning roster move before today’s finale against the Pirates: They returned from rehabilitation assignment and reinstated Thaddeus Ward from the 15-day injured list and optioned Joe La Sorsa to Triple-A Rochester.

Ward went on the IL on July 3 with right shoulder inflammation after appearing in 22 games out of the bullpen in his rookie season, posting a 7.12 ERA with 26 strikeouts. Over two months later, the 26-year-old Rule 5 draft pick was clearly happy to be back in a major league clubhouse.

“Oh yeah, I missed that,” Ward said while receiving a big hug from Ildemaro Vargas before speaking with the media. “It's good to be back. I'm happy I'm back healthy, stronger. I cleaned some things up and I’m excited about what's gonna happen here.”

Ward made six starts while on rehab assignment, posting a 3.52 ERA (nine runs in 23 innings) with 19 strikeouts and six walks between the Florida Complex League, High-A Wilmington and Double-A Harrisburg. He last pitched on Sept. 8 at Altoona (Pirates), tossing five innings with two earned runs, three strikeouts and one walk.

“One of the things I needed to work on in terms of mechanically was kind of shortening up my arm path a little bit,” he said. “I had a tendency to stab down, and that's just not very good. Nobody likes that. So working on cleaning that up, making sure I'm not stabbing and just kind of being smooth through the arm motion. So it's one of the things I cleaned up and I've thrown a lot more strikes, getting ahead more often, kind of figuring out, well not figuring out, but kind of rediscovering who I am as a pitcher.”

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Game 147 lineups: Nats at Pirates

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PITTSBURGH – The Nationals have a chance to split this four-game series with the Pirates in this afternoon’s finale.

After Patrick Corbin pitched 6 ⅔ strong innings on Monday en route to victory, Joan Adon and Jackson Rutledge combined to pitch 7 ⅔ innings over the last two games, both losses.

So the Nats will turn to Josiah Gray to provide some length on the mound. The right-hander will make his first start in 11 days after the team gave him extra rest to reset after a tough stretch. In his last start on Sept. 3, Gray gave up three runs while throwing 86 pitches in just four innings against the Marlins. That was the latest in a stretch since the beginning of August in which he has pitched to an 8.49 ERA over his last six starts.

We’ll see how he does this afternoon against the Pirates, who he held to one run over six innings with six strikeouts back in April.

Mitch Keller is the first Pirates starter this week that we knew was scheduled to start beforehand, instead of finding out only a couple of hours before first pitch like the previous three games. The right-hander is 11-9 with a 4.23 ERA and 1.282 WHIP in 29 starts. He was one of two Pirates representatives in the All-Star Game, making this a pitching matchup of All-Stars.

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Rutledge's erratic debut too much for Nats to overcome in loss (updated)

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PITTSBURGH – Jackson Rutledge seemed antsy when he walked into the Nationals clubhouse at PNC Park this afternoon. A major league debut can do that to a young pitcher.

The former first-round pick arrived in Pittsburgh just before last night’s game against the Pirates. He then spent the rest of the night and all day today anticipating his major league debut.

The nerves and adrenaline probably lingered up until his first pitch, as he was seen walking around the clubhouse pregame greeting his teammates and receiving congratulations. But it was also as if he couldn’t sit still in anticipation.

“Definitely a lot of pacing," Rutledge said of how he spent the day waiting for his debut. "Walking around the hotel just wanting my clock to start, wanting my routine to get going. Once I got here, things kind of went pretty smooth. Got to say hi to all the people, all my teammates and just do the usual routine. From there, it was just like it is any other outing.”

Hopefully, this isn't like any other subsequent outing because that nervous energy carried over into the game as Rutledge was clearly amped up for his first big league start. Erratic and unable to settle down, the seven runs he would allow proved too much for the Nationals to overcome despite a late rally in a 7-6 loss to the Pirates in front of an announced crowd of 9,883.

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Rutledge recalled for debut, Thompson optioned to Rochester

Jackson Rutledge Harrisburg red

PITTSBURGH – The excitement continues for the Nationals at PNC Park as they prepare for Jackson Rutledge’s major league debut. The Nats officially recalled the big right-hander from Triple-A Rochester ahead of tonight’s third game of this series against the Pirates.

Rutledge, 24, was the Nationals’ first-round pick at No. 17 overall in the 2019 MLB Draft. Formerly the top prospect in the system, Rutledge is now ranked as the Nats' No. 7 prospect per Baseball America and No. 13 per MLB Pipeline.

In 23 starts this year between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Rochester, Rutledge is 8-4 with a 3.71 ERA and 1.269 WHIP over 119 innings.

“One, I always forget how big he is. He's a big kid,” manager Davey Martinez said with a laugh of his 6-foot-8, 251-pound starter. “But I'm proud of him. He worked really hard to get up here. He did some really good things down in the minor leagues. He started putting them together this year really well, so he's gonna get an opportunity to go out and start today for us. He's got a mix of four good pitches. The big thing with him, I didn't talk too much about anything, but just hey, attacking the strike zone, as I do with all these young kids. Just go try to get strike one on every hitter and just have fun. I'm really looking forward to seeing him pitch.”

Fellow rookie Drew Millas will be behind the plate to catch Rutledge while making just his sixth major league appearance and third start. The two are familiar with each other from coming up in the minor league system together.

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Game 146 lineups: Nats at Pirates

Jackson Rutledge spring training red

PITTSBURGH – It’s been an exciting day for the Nationals so far after they officially announced a multi-year contract extension with longtime general manager Mike Rizzo this morning. The excitement continues tonight with the debut of a top prospect.

Jackson Rutledge will make his major league debut tonight as the starting pitcher for the Nationals. The 2019 first-round pick, who dealt with various injuries to begin his professional career, is 8-4 with a 3.71 ERA and 1.269 WHIP in 119 innings over 23 starts this year between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Rochester, his first time reaching the upper levels of the minor league system.

A former top prospect and currently the Nationals’ No. 7 prospect per Baseball America and No. 13 per MLB Pipeline, the big right-hander will be the 10th player and sixth pitcher to make his major league debut with the Nats this season. He follows Thaddeus Ward, Hobie Harris, Jake Irvin, Jake Alu, Amos Willingham, Jose A. Ferrer, Blake Rutherford, Jacob Young and Drew Millas.

The Nationals have optioned Mason Thompson to Triple-A Rochester to make room for Rutledge on the active roster.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS at PITTSBURGH PIRATES
Where: PNC Park
Gametime: 6:35 p.m. EDT
TV: MASN2, MLB.tv
Radio: 106.7 The Fan, MLB.com
Weather: Partly cloudy, 70 degrees, wind 8 mph out to center field

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