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The Solanos' night to remember

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The Solanos' night to remember

MIAMI -- Imagine the thoughts racing through Jhonatan Solano's mind as he stepped to the plate last night.

Twenty-four hours prior, he learned he was being called up by the Nationals, who were playing in Miami, where his brother Donovan happened to have been called up by the Marlins nine days earlier. Now the 26-year-old catcher was being summoned by manager Davey Johnson to pinch-hit with two outs in the top of the ninth against All-Star closer Heath Bell. With his brother watching from the other dugout. And with his parents (who flew in from Colombia earlier in the day to attend their first major-league game) watching from the stands.

Good luck dealing with all that, kid.

"Yeah, you know, it's a little pressure," Solano would say later. "There's a lot of people in the stadium, all my family here, all together. But I breathed like 50 times. Hopefully I get a hit."

He did get a hit. A double down the right-field line. On an 0-2 count. To keep the game alive for the Nationals.

"I pray on that," he said. "I say: 'God, I don't want to be the last out to the game.' He heard my prayer and he give me double. That's good."

It's all good right now for the Solano family, which last night experienced the thrill of a lifetime. Two sons on the same major-league field, each having been summoned to make their debuts in the span of nine days.

"Super-happy," mother Myriam Preciado, wearing a Marlins jersey, said before the game through an interpreter.

"We weren't expecting it," father Luis Solano, wearing a Nationals jersey added.

The path each Solano brother took to reach the big leagues was anything but conventional. Growing up in Colombia, a nation that until last week had produced only 11 major-league ballplayers, opportunities were extremely limited. Luis, though, had been a pitcher and infielder before an injury derailed his career, so he passed along his love for the game to his sons.

Even so, it's difficult for Colombian players to get noticed by scouts. Thus, a teenaged Jhonatan Solano found himself traveling across the border to Venezuela for a tryout, in a van full of passengers lugging produce (including one woman with a tied-up pig).

Solano was seated next to a heap of onions. To this day, teammates and coaches refer to him by the nickname "cebolla" (Spanish for "onion.")

Solano was signed by the Nationals, but his trek to the big leagues was a long one. He spent seven years in the minors, rooming with Ian Desmond at both Class AA and Class AAA in 2009. He was sent back to Class AA in 2010, then returned to Class AAA last season.

Added to the Nationals' 40-man roster over the winter so he couldn't be lost via the Rule 5 draft, Solano was in big-league camp this spring but stood no realistic chance of heading north with the club. And there was little reason to believe he'd be called upon at any point, not with Wilson Ramos and Jesus Flores in Washington, veteran Carlos Maldonado at Syracuse and touted prospect Sandy Leon at Harrisburg.

But then those fellow catchers started dropping like flies. Ramos tore his ACL and was done for the season. Leon suffered a bad ankle sprain four innings into his big-league debut. And then Sunday night, Flores tweaked his hamstring, sidelining him for at least a couple of days.

Thus the call finally was placed to Solano to get down to Miami as quickly as possible.

"When you sign, your first goal is to make it to the big leagues," said Solano, who only returned in the last week from his own stint on the DL due to a neck injury. "But when they put me on the 40-man roster last year it was exciting. When they called me Monday ... wow, I can't believe that."

Neither could Donovan, his younger brother who spent eight seasons in the minors (most in the Cardinals organization) before getting called up by the Marlins last week. A natural infielder who can play anywhere on the field (aside from, ironically, catcher), Donovan Solano debuted for Miami on May 22 and singled in his first career at-bat.

His parents, however, weren't there to see it in person. Myriam has always had a fear of flying, so she and Luis stayed at home. That was, until they learned their other son had also been promoted to the majors.

"With that news, she didn't want to stay home," Donovan said.

Luis and Myriam arrived Tuesday afternoon. Jhonatan had arrived the night before, flying in from Syracuse, greeted at the Miami airport by none other than his brother and fellow major leaguer.

The two embraced and shed a few tears.

"Hey, bro," Donovan told Jhonatan. "We did it."

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Nationals-Phillies postponed on Monday night

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Nationals-Phillies postponed on Monday night

WASHINGTON -- Bryce Harper came back to the District on Monday. No baseball was played.

Rain storms cycled through the DMV starting around 6 p.m. at first delaying the series-opening game between the Nationals and Phillies, before it was finally postponed at 10 p.m. The game will be made up as part of a split-doubleheader on Wednesday. The first game is at 1:05 p.m., the second at 7:05 p.m.

The Tuesday starters for both teams remain the same: Patrick Corbin for the Nationals and Jake Arrieta for the Phillies.

Washington will need an extra starter during the week because it is playing seven games in six days. For instance, the Nationals could call someone up to pitch the first game Wednesday, and have Max Scherzer pitch on regular rest Wednesday night. The doubleheader being played Wednesday instead of Tuesday allows the Nationals plenty of time to import a starter for the day, if they choose to do it then.

However, Tuesday’s forecast is also rain-filled. Stay tuned.

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Nationals introduce first round pick Jackson Rutledge, who is ready to work

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Nationals introduce first round pick Jackson Rutledge, who is ready to work

WASHINGTON -- Jackson Rutledge may still be years away from the majors, but as the Nationals' 2019 first round pick toured the team's ballpark for the first time on Monday, he sure looked the part as a big leaguer.

At 6-foot-8, Rutledge towers over everyone currently on the Nationals' roster. He's got prototypical pitcher size with a fastball that reaches triple digits.

Like any pitcher recently drafted, no matter the round, there is a good chance Nationals fans will not hear Rutledge's name again for quite some time, if they hear it again at all.

In the previous eight years, the team used their first pick in the draft on a pitcher six times. Only two of them - Lucas Giolito and Erick Fedde - have pitched in a Nationals uniform, and only Fedde is currently on their roster.

Rutledge, 20, will begin his journey with the Gulf Coast League Nationals. He heads there on Friday, hoping it will not be long before he is back in Washington.

"This is my first time in D.C.," Rutledge said. "Amazing stadium."

Rutledge signed his first contract with the Nationals on Monday and passed a physical in the morning. In the afternoon, he walked around the clubhouse and on the field during batting practice, introducing himself to manager Davey Martinez and players who could be his future teammates.

Rutledge has said in various interviews since being drafted earlier this month that he looks forward to playing with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin, the Nationals' three ace starters. 

This was his first glimpse at them in-person.

"Meeting all the big league guys was really cool," he said. "I just want to be one of those guys that has that success."

If there was any impression Rutledge left on Monday, beyond his height, it was his eagerness to learn. He cited several of his mentors over the years, former big leaguers like Andy Benes who coached him in summer ball and Woody Williams, an assistant coach at San Jacinto Community College. He mentioned Tom Arrington, head coach at San Jacinto, and his attention to detail.

Rutledge even had praise for Ross Detwiler, a former Nationals pitcher whom they took in the first round of the 2007 MLB Draft. He explained how Detwiler taught him a changeup grip during an offseason workout that he has continued to use.

Those are the people, he says, who helped him arrive at this unexpected place in his life as a first-round draft pick.

"If you asked me a year and a half ago where I would be, I probably wouldn't say the first round. It worked out really well because of how hard I worked," Rutledge said.

His college numbers were certainly impressive. Rutledge held a 0.87 ERA with 134 strikeouts in 13 starts. As a freshman at Arkansas before transferring, he posted a 3.45 ERA in 12 starts.

Rutledge is now looking forward to taking the next steps in his development. He said working on his curveball and changeup will be the focus while he's in the GCL. He wants to add weight and muscle to prepare for next year, his first full pro season. 

Assuming he does someday return to Washington as a big league pitcher, Rutledge said to expect a guy who likes to work fast but without a lot of emotion.

"When things are going well, I really feel in control of the game. I feel like I'm setting the game at my own pace and hitters feel uncomfortable because of that," he said. 

"I'm not a guy that's going to get up and start yelling and give energy like that, I'm more of a consistent kind of flat body language sort of guy."

Nationals fans will hope to get to know him better someday. For now, it's down to the minors to learn the ropes as a prospect.

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