Rutledge rebounds for strong home debut in Nats' win

Righty logs 6 1/3 strong innings in no-decision against White Sox in second career start

September 20th, 2023

WASHINGTON -- Manager Dave Martinez expected the adrenaline to be lessened when right-hander  took the mound for his second career start on Tuesday night against the White Sox.

Rutledge’s Major League debut was a whirlwind on Wednesday, when he tossed 3 2/3 innings against the Pirates at PNC Park. The newness, Martinez anticipated, would settle in for Rutledge’s first appearance at Nationals Park.

Rutledge did not look like a rookie when he quickly delivered 6 1/3 frames in the Nats’ 4-3 win over the White Sox. He became the first Nationals pitcher to span at least 6 1/3 innings in his first big league home game since Stephen Strasburg in his Major League debut on June 8, 2010.

“One, he was a lot calmer,” Martinez said of Rutledge. “Two, he attacked the strike zone. Good fastball today, he threw the ball well.”

Rutledge threw an efficient 78 pitches to work into the seventh inning. He allowed two runs off a pair of solo homers to Luis Robert Jr. and Yoán Moncada, with a total of six hits, one walk and two strikeouts.

“I did a lot better job of [getting ahead of guys] and establishing the bottom of the zone,” said Rutledge, who is ranked as the Nationals’ No. 13 prospect by MLB Pipeline. “[Catcher Drew] Millas works really well back there, I think he probably stole me a couple strikes which is always nice.

“[I] got in the zone early with the sinker. A heavy right-handed lineup -- that’s going to be the attack for me, a lot of sinker-slider.”

Rutledge dealt two 1-2-3 innings and faced no more than five batters in a frame, unlike his debut when he faced the entire Pirates lineup in the first.

“He had a good tempo, good rhythm,” Martinez said. “Once he got through that first inning, I think he really knew that, ‘All I have to do is throw strikes.’ … He settled down throughout the game, and he was just really good.”

Rutledge’s outing was a bounce back from his debut, when he surrendered seven runs on 10 hits, one home run and one walk to go with two strikeouts across 90 pitches at PNC Park. Rutledge, who had skipped a start for Triple-A Rochester before being called up, felt more in a routine on usual rest.

“We harped on it for five, six days now about, 'Forget about that one, let’s get to the next one and move on from that,'” Martinez said. “... The biggest thing we told him [was], 'You’ve got to slow yourself down a little bit and stay in the moment, don’t get ahead of yourself.' And he did that tonight.”

Rutledge was paired again in the battery with friend and former Minor League teammate Millas for familiarity and continuity. After Millas hit a ducking 6-foot-8 Rutledge in the head while throwing to second base in Pittsburgh, the pair worked to cleanly nab Tim Anderson attempting to steal second on the first pitch of Robert’s third-inning at-bat.

This time, Rutledge turned his back to the plate before crouching down and Millas threw out Anderson to end the inning.

“I got a little lower this time. I don’t know that I looked super athletic doing it. Maybe next time, I might go just face down, all fours trying to avoid it. I have a hard time moving side-to-side after a slider,” Rutledge said with a laugh.

A fast-action double play was another highlight of Rutledge’s outing. In the fifth inning with Gavin Sheets on first, Elvis Andrus grounded toward first baseman Dominic Smith, who fired the ball to shortstop CJ Abrams covering second. Abrams then dashed it to Rutledge as he ran to the first-base bag to complete a 3-6-1 double play.

“It was funny because I think the last time I had a chance at a 3-6-1, I sprained my ankle and I did not look very good on it,” Rutledge said. “CJ made a great throw over to me, found the bag. I think a big part of the game was, getting those two outs helped me continue to keep a good pace as far as pitch count and being dominant in the zone and running game.”

Four years after he was selected 17th overall by Washington in the 2019 MLB Draft, Rutledge reached the milestone of making his home park debut.

“It was amazing, it was awesome,” Rutledge said. “Just hearing the fans go crazy a couple times was really fun. It’s a beautiful ballpark, and I’m looking forward to making a lot more starts here.”