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.
“For me, it's pretty cool that they get to work with each other again,” Martinez said. “They did that down in the minor leagues. But Drew knows him well, so he can get him to calm down a little bit. He has some familiarity with his pitches, so hopefully those two guys will bang heads, get together and have a good game.”
Rutledge will be the 10th prospect (sixth pitcher) to make his big league debut with the Nats this year. The youth movement has been a good sign of the organization’s development of young players throughout this rebuild. But Rutledge’s debut is especially important as he is a homegrown talent as a former first-round pick. When he takes the mound tonight, he will be the 26th homegrown starter to debut with the Nationals in team history and the first since Jake Irvin on May 3 against the Cubs. Ironically, he will also become the fourth Nats homegrown starter to debut against the Pirates, joining Ross Detwiler, Craig Stammen and Stephen Strasburg.
“We got some very young talented players,” Martinez said. “Some that we traded for, some that have been in the organization that we developed. Rut being one. He's one of our No. 1 picks and we're really happy that these guys are developing the way they are. It's been a lot of fun. It's been fun getting them up here. And like I said, the ultimate goal for all of these guys is not just to get up here, but to get up here and stay. That's what we're hoping for these guys to do. I've had a blast with these guys, I really have. And I love teaching. So to get another young kid up here and teach him how to be a professional and a Major League Baseball player is gonna be a lot of fun.”
How long Rutledge sticks with the Nationals remains to be seen. He’s already well past his career high in innings and has an injury history. But with MacKenzie Gore’s season likely done due to a left finger blister, the Nats do have a starter’s spot open if they wish to finish the year with a six-man rotation.
“We'll see how today goes,” Martinez said. “But I want to give him an opportunity to throw in a few games up here. And then we'll see what happens after that.”
To make room on the active roster for Rutledge, who was already on the 40-man roster, the Nationals optioned Mason Thompson down to Rochester.
Thompson, 25, went 4-4 with a 5.50 ERA in 51 games out of Washington’s bullpen. But after posting a 3.83 ERA and 1.252 WHIP in 35 first-half appearances, he has struggled with his mechanics and pitched to an 11.57 ERA and 2.657 WHIP in 16 games since the All-Star break.
“He's had some mechanical issues that we're trying to work through,” Martinez said. “I thought it was best just to kind of ease his mind a little bit. Give him less pressure, go down and work on some of the things we want him to work on. Mason is still a big part of our future. He really is. He's had such a weird year. He was really, really good for a while and then not so good. We know what he can do when he's really good. We've seen it, so we want to get him back there. For me, it was just about getting him down there, getting him to relax a little bit, working on some things that we want him to work on. I'm sure you'll see Mason again.”
* The Nationals officially announced a multi-year contract extension for Mike Rizzo this morning, keeping the longtime general manager in charge of the front office for the foreseeable future.
Rizzo and Martinez, who received his own multi-year extension last month, will now be able to see this rebuilding process through, with the end seemingly coming sooner than most expected.
“I got a great relationship with Mike,” Martinez said. “I'm really happy they got it done and we get to work together for many more years and build something again. We won a championship together and we get to try to do it again here and do it again fairly quickly.”