Both GM and President of Baseball Operations Mike Rizzo and the Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez talked in advance of 2019 first round pick Jackson Rutledge’s big league debut this past season about the right-hander’s rise through the organizational ranks.
“I’m happy about his progression and his development,” Rizzo told reporters in September.
“I think he’s earned the opportunity to pitch in the big leagues. It’s going to be fun to see him pitch a couple times in the big leagues before this season ends.”
Rutledge dealt with injuries in college and early in his pro career, but the 6’8” starter made a few adjustments, managed to stay healthy, and earned himself opportunities to move up for the last few seasons.
“He has been — not I would say written off — but when you’re in the minor leagues,” Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies, “… and you come from a junior college program, [San Jacinto Junior College] — which is going to take you a little bit longer than if you come from an SEC program or that type of thing, and then he got nicked up a couple times and kind of struggled with that, but the last two years he’s been solid. He’s taken the ball every fifth day, which is what we’re trying to accomplish here at the big league level and the minor league level for these pitchers — because so many of them get hurt — is to finish a full season happy and healthy and progressing in the right direction, and I think that [Rutledge] has shown from his A-ball progression to Double-A and Triple-A. He’s earned the right to debut in the big leagues, and regardless of how he finishes this year, he’s going to be a big part of what we do here and with the Nationals moving forward with the rest of that young rotation and the young guys in the minor leagues that we have.”
Rizzo said he saw Rutledge as a potential member of the Nationals’ rotation along with their other young arms.
“We’re excited about [Josiah] Gray, [MacKenzie] Gore, [Jake] Irvin in the big leagues, and then you’ve got Rutledge and Cole Henry, and [Jake] Bennett*,” he explained, “and [Cade] Cavalli and that group of guys that will all be in the big leagues sometime in the near future.”
[ed. note – “Unfortunately, Jake Bennett, a 2019 39th Round pick, underwent Tommy John surgery this past September, after Rizzo’s comments, so he’ll miss all or most of 2024, as MASN’s Bobby Blanco noted in a recent write-up on the left-handed pitcher.”]
“We got some very young talented players,” Martinez added, noting how Rutledge was one of several young, up-and-coming players who made it up to the majors this year.
“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 going to be a lot of fun.”
[ed. note – “There were 10 players total who made their MLB debuts for the Nationals this season, tying their franchise record from the 2015 campaign. Can you name them all? We’ll hide the answers in the comments below at some point soon…”]
In 23 starts and 119 IP this year between Double- and Triple-A in the Nats’ system, Rutledge put up a combined 3.71 ERA, 55 walks (4.16 BB/9), 106 strikeouts (8.02 K/9), a .227 BAA, and a 1.27 WHIP, (with a 3.16 ERA in 12 starts with AA Harrisburg, and a 4.44 ERA in 11 starts at AAA Rochester), earning the late season opportunity to pitch in the big leagues.
He ended up making four starts in the majors down the stretch, giving up 24 hits and 15 runs in 20 innings of work (for a 6.75 ERA, and a 5.86 FIP), over which he walked six, and struck out 12, with opposing hitters putting up a combined .304/.364/.519 line against him.
He talked late in the season about how much the opportunity to test himself against major league competition meant to him.
“It just tells me that I belong here,” Rutledge told reporters after his final outing, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.
“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.”
As Rizzo explained before Rutledge’s debut, it was just the first step, and an opportunity to get the starter acclimated to major league life to prepare him for the future.
“We’re looking forward to him getting his feet wet, making his debut, getting a few starts in the big leagues before the season ends, and then coming to Spring Training and trying to battle for one of the five starter spots that will be available in ‘24.”
Did Rutledge put himself in the mix for a rotation spot in 2024 with his work in the majors and minors this season? Do you see him starting the ‘24 campaign on the Nationals’ major league roster?