“These guys, they had such a good year in the minor leagues,” manager Davey Martinez said of pitchers like the Washington Nationals’ 2019 1st Round pick Jackson Rutledge getting (or really earning) an opportunity to pitch in the majors late this season after a solid run in the minors before the 24-year-old got called up to make his MLB debut and hung around for four starts down the stretch, two of them against the six-time, defending NL East champs from Atlanta.
“They get a chance up here this last month to go and pitch up here, and we get to evaluate them every time they get the ball and start,” Martinez explained.
In the end, the Nats got through most of the season with five/six starters (MacKenzie Gore, Josiah Gray, Patrick Corbin, and Trevor Williams — with 10 outings from Chad Kuhl before rookie Jake Irvin got called up to start in early May and stuck around), and the club ended up using eight total on the year, giving [Joan] Adon and Rutledge a look in the final weeks of the 2023 campaign.
“Like I said before, it’s unusual that you go through a year with only seven starters,” Martinez said, noting that others around the league have asked the manager how the team did it.
“We’re going to need these guys in the future, both [Joan] Adon, Rutledge, and probably many more. But they’re a big part of our future as well.”
Getting an opportunity to face the Braves in the back-to-back starts in his final two outings, gave Rutledge an opportunity to test himself against the best offense in the majors this year and prove to himself he’s able to compete at the major league level.
“They’re a really good lineup at adjusting,” Rutledge said after the first of the two starts, a five-inning, three-hit, one-run outing, “… 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.”
Having the success he did in the start did mean a lot to Rutledge.
“It just tells me that I belong here. 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.”
He didn’t fare as well in the second of the two starts against the Braves, giving up a total of five runs on five hits in his five innings of work on the road in Truist Park in Atlanta.
His four starts down the stretch gave the Nationals and Rutledge’s manager a look at what he’s capable of doing at this level of the game.
“When he throws strikes, he can compete, and that’s the biggest thing,” Martinez said.
“He actually said it to me when I took him out of the game. He said, ‘I just got to have some conviction and throw the ball over the plate.’ And I said, ‘Hey, if you can do that, you can pitch here and help us for a long time. Your stuff is good, but you got to attack the strike zone. The way he finished off and got some big outs the last inning, that was impressive. So we got to build from that.”
“Last year, I was struggling to get out of the third inning against the Delmarva Shorebirds,” Rutledge told reporters, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman, of the opportunity in the final month.
“And now I’m pitching into the fifth against the Atlanta Braves. That’s a big difference.
“Obviously, I didn’t want to give up five runs today. But going forward, I know I can pitch at this level. Having that confidence going forward that I’m in a good spot is important.”