Jackson Rutledge confident he could get big league hitters out tonight

Chris Lingebach
June 04, 2019 - 4:13 pm

When the Nationals drafted Jackson Rutledge 17th overall, the gut reaction from many fans online went something like, 'Great. Can he help the bullpen now?'

It would be foolish to think the Nats would pluck a kid from the Junior College ranks and drop him straight into the big leagues. While much of that is wishful thinking, and most of those fans probably understand that realistically cannot happen, Rutledge does, as a matter of fact, believe his stuff could probably play at the highest level of the game right now. 

Rutledge, in a Tuesday appearance with 106.7 The Fan's Grant & Danny, was asked about his confidence level, among a variety of topics about his game.

"I am curious just from a confidence standpoint," Grant Paulsen said. "You throw harder and have as good a slider as most of the relievers in Major League Baseball. Just hypothetically – this will never happen – but let's say they called you and they said, 'Hey, we want you to pitch against the White Sox tonight in the seventh inning.'

"Do you think you could go in and get some big-league hitters out with that fastball-slider combination?"

"Yeah. I think I definitely can," said Rutledge. "You know, I think stuff plays at any level, and I think I have the confidence in my preparation and my stuff to go ahead and do that."

Rutledge didn't know what to expect come draft day, but knew he wanted to be there in person, as inspiration for his fellow JuCo players, so few of whom make it to where he is.

"I had just about no idea what was going to happen that night, honestly," he said. "I didn't really have anything set up with anybody, so really surprised and definitely very happy when it all happened. It's a kind of surreal moment, really."

"Definitely glad that I did. It was a really cool opportunity," he added. "Really the reason I wanted to go was, coming out of the JuCo ranks, I kind of get to represent all those guys and I think for a lot of guys seeing the JuCo guy on television getting drafted is kind of big for that sort of route."

Asked if the Nats showed more interest in him than other clubs in the lead-up to the draft, Rutledge said, "Yeah they were definitely in the group. You know, they were at just about every single one of my starts that I can remember, and I had talked to them quite a bit, so they were definitely on the list."

When did the moment of being drafted feel furthest away to you?

"Definitely after my freshman year. I decided to transfer from Arkansas to San Jac (San Jacinto Junior College) and, you know, that wasn't an easy decision. It was pretty tough having to deal with that transition. This definitely felt pretty far away. Obviously it really worked out for me in the long run, though."

Can you give us a scouting report on yourself?

"Yeah, so I say my fastball's definitely my best pitch. I'm anywhere from 95, 99 up to 101 this year, so I'm gonna maintain that throughout the game. And then my next best pitch is gonna be my slider, which is something I've added this past year. It's got good horizontal break and depth to it, in the mid-80s.

"The next pitch would be a curveball that's in the low 80s, decent pitch. And then the changeup is continuing to get better, something I didn't throw a whole lot this past spring but something I have confidence in now."

Is the curveball more of a get-me-over, change-in-eye-level pitch, or will you actually put people away with it?

"I like to use it to put people away in the dirt as a chase pitch. I'd say my slider's definitely the better swing-and-miss pitch when we're talking in the zone, but the curveball is definitely, with the amount of depth it has, it's good to throw in the dirt."

You probably didn't need that changeup much against JuCo hitters. Did you work on it knowing that you'll need it in your future?

"Definitely. Yeah, we had the opportunity to play the Sugar Land Skeeters, which is an independent ball team, this past year, and those were examples of former big-league hitters that were able to time up my fastball a little bit better than what I've been used to, so being able to mix in changeups against those guys was pretty successful for me."

Sometimes taller guys have trouble repeating their delivery, or struggle with control/command. 

"So, I think a lot of guys my size will have issues with that. For me myself, I've never really ran into that, just because of my athleticism. I played basketball in high school. I could run a three-guard if I needed to. But if you look at video of me, it's all really short and condensed, which leads to less room for error.

"And with all the stuff that I've done in the weight room over the past few years, and am gonna continue to do, it's gonna make it a lot easier for me to do all that."

What do you need to work on?

"I think the curveball and the changeup need to continue to get more consistent. They're good at times, but they're also bad at times, so that's something that I've been working the past few weeks even on and gonna continue to do that into the summer. And also coming with that is the refining of the command. You know, the more consistent your pitches are, the better you're gonna be able to command them. So those are two of the big things, and then outside of that, I need to to get stronger. Continue to do that. Continue to get stronger and more mobile."

Favorite pitcher to watch in the Major Leagues?

"Well I'm not just saying this because I'm with the Nationals now, but Max Scherzer. He's a guy who's from St. Louis also. Kind of grew up looking up to him. And the competitiveness is unreal with him."

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