PITTSBURGH (AP) — Bryan Reynolds watched Washington Nationals rookie pitcher Jackson Rutledge try to gather himself after taking a throw off the back of his head from a teammate and wondered if a little baseball justice was about to be served.
Rutledge had tried to make himself as small as possible — no easy task at 6-foot-8 — when catcher Drew Millas fired the ball toward second base in an effort to throw out Pittsburgh’s Ji Hwan Bae with one out in the bottom of the fourth inning on Wednesday night.
The ball never got there. Instead, it caromed off the back of Rutledge’s red cap and rolled into right field while Bae raced to third. While trainers tended to Rutledge, Reynolds took a couple of practice swings to keep warm.
Rutledge stayed in the game and when the count evened at 2-2, Reynolds felt a twinge of empathy for the former first-round pick making his major league debut.
“I was like, ’Well, if he gets me here, he kind of deserves it (after getting hit),'” Reynolds said.
Reynolds instead turned on Rutledge’s changeup for his third hit of the night and 21st homer of the season and the Pirates held on late for a 7-6 win.
Josh Palacios and Liover Pegeuro added two hits and an RBI apiece for the Pirates, who jumped to a 7-1 lead and then escaped when closer David Bednar retired C.J. Abrams and Lane Thomas with the bases loaded in the ninth for his 34th save.
“Just wanted to make it interesting, obviously that’s not the goal,” Bednar said. “You want to make it quick. Once you get guys on, it’s just like we want to put a stop to it and come away with a win.”
Pittsburgh rookie Quinn Priester (3-2), back up for his second stint in the majors after six rocky starts earlier in the season, gave up four runs in four-plus innings after coming on for opener Colin Selby to earn the victory.
Priester, the 18th overall pick in the 2019 draft, came on in the second inning following opener Colin Selby. He retired the first 10 batters he faced, showing off a fastball that topped out at 97 mph, a significant uptick from his first call-up.
“It’s awesome man,” Priester said. “The results aren’t indicative of how I feel about it. I think there’s so much more to build on there than there was before. I’m really excited to keep working and the results are going to come.”
Dominic Smith hit his ninth home run for Washington. Millas hit his first major league homer for the Nationals, who fell to 4-10 in their last 14.
Rutledge, taken one spot after Priester in the 2019 draft, arrived in the majors fresh off a solid season in the minors, posting an 8-4 record with a 3.71 ERA and 106 strikeouts in 119 innings across 23 starts in Double-A and Triple-A.
Pittsburgh jumped on him immediately, tagging him for four runs in the first and another in the third. What will be remembered far longer than Rutledge’s stat line, however, is the play that ended with him rubbing the back of his head while his family sat in the stands with a look of concern on their faces.
They weren’t the only ones.
“It was wild,” Reynolds said. “I’m impressed that he stayed in and finished the inning. To stay in and keep pitching after getting domed up like that is pretty impressive.”
Rutledge became the latest in a long line of Nationals rookies to fail to earn a win in their MLB debut. The group is 0-11 with six no-decisions since Stephen Strasburg’s historic 14-strikeout performance against the Pirates in 2010.
Strasburg appears headed toward retirement and the Nationals find themselves in the midst of a rebuild in much the same way they were 13 years ago. Longtime general manager Mike Rizzo will try to see this makeover through much the way he did the first one that ended with Washington’s 2019 World Series title.
Pirates: SS Oneil Cruz (fractured left ankle) has resumed hitting and is taking ground balls. Cruz, who was injured in early April, won’t return to play this season but could be cleared for what the club called “high-level baseball reps” at the team facility in Bradenton, Florida over the winter.
The series concludes Thursday with an afternoon game.