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Jackson Rutledge likely to make Nats debut vs. Pirates

Feb 26, 2023; Port St. Lucie, Florida, USA; Washington Nationals starting pitcher Jackson Rutledge (79) throws a pitch during the third inning against the New York Mets at Clover Park. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Halfway through the four-game series between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the visiting Washington Nationals, the set has a feel of some sort of showdown.

And perhaps it is, if only to see where they stand against each other in the lower part of the National League standings.

Washington (65-80) will have to win the final two games of the series to equal Pittsburgh’s record after the Pirates (67-78) won 5-1 on Tuesday for a split of the first two games.

The Nationals had just six hits on Tuesday but still hit the ball hard, leading outfielder Joey Meneses, who went 2-for-4 with a double, to note that “it could have been different. I just can’t tell you that because of those hard-hit balls we’re going to win the game.”

Washington manager Dave Martinez acknowledged that his hitters are following instructions.

“I like the way we’re swinging the bats,” Martinez said. “We hit first and we walk second, so we’re going to be aggressive.”

Pittsburgh, when it wins, is often relying on a number of young and inexperienced players who have mostly joined the team in the last couple months.

“Winning is the best feeling ever when you play this game. It feels good,” one of those players, Pirates rookie catcher Endy Rodriguez, told AT&T Sportsnet through an interpreter.

Rodriguez went 2-for-4 with a single, a double, a walk and two runs on Tuesday. He also has been noticed for his work behind the plate, particularly his handling of Pittsburgh’s staff, which has struggled at times to find a starter from game to game.

Both teams are thinking a bit outside the box for their starters Wednesday. Right-hander Jackson Rutledge is expected to join Washington from Triple-A Rochester to make his major league debut, while Pittsburgh will go with right-hander Colin Selby (2-1, 8.64 ERA).

Selby, a rookie who has never faced the Nationals, is slated to serve as an opener, with Quinn Priester, who was added to the Pirates’ taxi squad on Tuesday, expected to be added to the roster and pitch most of the innings.

Priester made his first six major league appearances, all starts, between mid-July and mid-August this season before going back to Triple-A Indianapolis.

In his most recent big-league start, Priester gave up six runs and seven hits in five innings, with three strikeouts and three walks on Aug. 14 in a loss against the New York Mets, who scored in each of the five innings.

“You’re always looking for those things to get better at,” Priester said after that outing. “You have starts like (this) where there’s a lot of things you can get better at.”

Priester apparently worked on those things. Since he was demoted, he had a 2.66 ERA over four starts and 20 1/3 innings, with 32 strikeouts and 12 walks. He struck out 10 in his most recent appearance with Indianapolis, a Thursday victory over Toledo.

Rutledge, 24, is a 6-foot-8 hard thrower who had a combined 3.71 ERA in 23 starts for Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Rochester this season.

–Field Level Media