The Washington Nationals have Jackson Rutledge on the mound for his first home start in his MLB career. That start last week certainly was not how you dream about your MLB debut given that it was a disaster on the mound. Forget the 17.18 ERA for a moment, and consider that his first inning actually had good pitches go wrong with three hits that found outfield grass via a groundball and two weak bloops by the left field line. Of course there were bad pitches that went wrong too — but if some more went right, who knows how that could have gone. Credit to Pittsburgh for not letting up on Rutledge who surrendered 4 earnies in the first inning. His xERA (expected ERA) was 5.64 for that start. Still not good, but that’s the difference with BABIP. What won’t work is giving up all of that contact.
In total, the 2019 first round draft pick was tagged with 10-hits because he didn’t miss enough bats plus that bad luck BABIP in his 3⅔ innings of work. You must miss more bats in 2-strike counts. Rutledge threw 52 strikes and only got 8 swing-and-miss strikes — all on fastballs and sliders. Not one on his changeup that played like a BP fastball too often, and was most likely attributed to the release point and shape on the pitch. It is a tumbler of a changeup that was working so well in Triple-A and could have been that nerves played into it with too firm of a grip — but only Rutledge would know for sure. This is where you wish you had Stephen Strasburg as an extra set of eyes as he threw one of the best changeups in baseball for a decade.
Now if Rutledge can have BABIP luck work to his advantage, and Jose Urena of the White Sox pitches to his 8.48 ERA or worse — the Nats could capitalize in this one. But the Nats have to play better than they did last night with some embarrassing mistakes that defied logic like CJ Abrams taking a lead so large off of first base against White Sox starter Mike Clevinger who picked-off Abrams with ease in the first inning. Did Abrams think Clevinger was Jon Lester with that 20-foot lead? Almost as bizarre was a pick-off play by Jose Ferrer that instead of following up his throw to cover the bag for a rundown, he walked off the mound towards his dugout as if he just got the third out. The smart baserunner just ran back to first base where nobody was covering. We’ve also discussed before about the situational batting issues with Lane Thomas when a runner is at third base, and last night was no exception as he once again chased pitches out of the zone to strike himself out. Thomas has a 34.3% K rate in those situations, but he seemed to fix this issue since June when he was batting .176 and is now batting .267.
The night ended with a bizarre war of words between Clevinger and Dom Smith after the Nats’ first baseman ended the shutout with two outs in the ninth inning with a long 419 foot home run in the chilly air over the out-of-town scoreboard in right field. Benches cleared but no physicality, just some extra drama that could carry into today.
Before the lineup was posted, the Nationals officially placed Travis Blankenhorn on the 10-day IL (plantar fasciitis) and recalled outfielder Blake Rutherford who had been up last month with the Nats. This kind of ends any thoughts that top prospect James Wood could have been promoted to the Nats.
After tonight’s game, there are just 10-games remaining in this 2023 regular season. Games like last night are hopefully a learning experience where we never see mistake like Abrams and Ferrer’s again.
“He ran around the bases, and Clevinger said some words. Next thing you know, I saw Dom turn around. Our team ran out there. We stopped it. We didn’t want any trouble. So got everybody in the dugout and finished the game.”— manager Dave Martinez said
“Dom stood there and watched the home run. He started saying some words to him. I don’t know what he said. But it’s just part of the game now. I’ve seen a lot worse. Guys stand there for a minute and a half the time and throw their bats 40 feet in the air. So it’s part of the game.”
Here is how they rank by starter’s ERA:
No. 7 Starter: Jackson Rutledge 17.18
No. 6 Starter: Joan Adon 6.39
No. 5 Starter: Trevor Williams 5.55
No. 4 Starter: Patrick Corbin 5.00
No. 3 Starter: MacKenzie Gore 4.42
No. 2 Starter: Jake Irvin 4.34
No. 1 Starter: Josiah Gray 4.07
Here is your Baseball Savant link for the game.
Chicago White Sox vs. Washington Nationals
Stadium: Nationals Park, Washington, D.C.
1st Pitch: 7:05 pm EDT
Radio: 106.7 The Fan radio and via the MLB app