Rutledge to make major league debut Wednesday (updated)

PITTSBURGH – The Nationals had not listed their starting pitcher for Wednesday’s game against the Pirates through the first two games of this series. And even though we had a pretty good assumption of who it would be, we now officially know who will take the mound at PNC Park tonight.

Jackson Rutledge will join the Nats to make his major league debut Wednesday, manager Davey Martinez announced after last night’s 5-1 loss.

“Rutledge is gonna start for us tomorrow,” Martinez said Tuesday. “So yeah, we'll get him going. Another young prospect of ours, we get him up here. Biggest thing for him is just go out there, try to have some fun and attack the strike zone.”

Rutledge was scratched from his scheduled start with Triple-A Rochester on Friday with no reason given. Back in D.C. that night, MacKenize Gore gave up four runs on three home runs in four innings against the Dodgers and was placed on the 15-day injured list with a left finger blister the following day, opening up a rotation spot for tonight and likely ending his season. The timing of Rutledge’s scratch was not a coincidence. At least not in how it relates to Gore.

"I think that it’s a coincidence that Rutch is going to take the mound today," said general manager Mike Rizzo during a Zoom meeting with reporters addressing his new multi-year contract extension with the Nats on Wednesday. "I'm happy about that. I'm happy about his progression and his development. I think he's earned the opportunity to pitch in the big leagues. It's gonna be fun to see him pitch a couple of times in the big leagues before this season ends.”

The 17th overall pick in the 2019 MLB Draft, Rutledge was at one time the top prospect in the Nationals system. When the Nats selected Cade Cavalli in the first round the following year, the two of them were expected to be the future 1-2 punch atop the rotation.

But while Cavalli flew up the farm system to make his debut last year, Rutledge dealt with injuries that slowed down his development. A shoulder issue and blister on his throwing hand limited the 6-foot-8, 251-pound right-hander to just 36 ⅓ innings in 2021.

After pitching 19 ⅓ innings in the Arizona Fall League, Rutledge went 8-6 with a 4.90 ERA, 1.387 WHIP, 9.2 K/9 rate and 3.41 K/BB rate in 20 starts with Single-A Fredericksburg.

He reported to spring training fully healthy and stuck around major league camp long enough to give Nationals brass the hope he would be ready to make his big league debut this year.

Starting the season at Double-A Harrisburg for the first time, Rutledge went 6-1 with a 3.60 ERA, 1.098 WHIP, 8.2 K/9 and 2.48 BB/K in 12 starts with the Senators. He also did a great job of limiting the longball, surrendering only five home runs in 68 ⅓ innings.

That earned him a promotion to Triple-A on June 28 as he finally started showing the promise that made him a first-round pick. In 11 starts with Rochester, Rutledge went 2-3 with a 4.44 ERA, 1.500 WHIP, 7.8 K/9 and 1.47 K/BB in 50 ⅔ innings.

Between Double-A and Triple-A, Rutledge is 8-4 with a 3.71 ERA, 1.269 WHIP, 8.0 K/9 and 1.93 K/BB in 119 innings over 23 starts this year.

“He made some adjustments down there,” Martinez said. “Especially gathering himself when things get a little array, he understands what he needs to do. So I'm looking forward to watching him pitch.”

Rutledge is the Nationals’ No. 7 prospect per Baseball America and No. 13 per MLB Pipeline. He will become the 10th player to make his major league debut with the Nats this year and the sixth pitcher following Thaddeus Ward, Hobie Harris, Jake Irvin, Amos Willingham and Jose A. Ferrer.

The Nationals recalled Joe La Sorsa from Rochester when Gore landed on the IL over the weekend, so they will need to make another roster move to activate Rutledge, who is already on the 40-man roster. Willingham could be a candidate to get sent down after throwing 29 pitches over two innings of relief last night.

Here’s a story from spring training on what Rutledge was working on in camp and what Martinez saw from the young righty.

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