Nats’ Fedde impresses in debut loss
Rockies 10 — Nationals 6 NL BASEBALL
WASHINGTON (WPNS) — Erick Fedde’s first major league start ended with a fidgety walk to the first base dugout after four grueling innings. The Colorado Rockies had not bowed to ceremony, and scored seven runs against the rookie, who nevertheless did exactly what the Washington Nationals thought their top pitching prospect would. He attacked, forcing the Rockies to beat him.
Sunday, they did. The Nationals never recovered from those seven runs, and fell, 10-6, in the first game of a day-night doubleheader. But while Fedde was not perfect, he did not crumble, and the Nationals did not have to scramble for a long man, using four relievers for an inning each to leave four fresh arms for the nightcap.
The reason the Nationals felt they could part with last year’s much-heralded debutant, Lucas Giolito, is they saw something in Fedde they did not see elsewhere. Something about his makeup, the cliched “bulldog mentality,” meant more than just the stuff. Mid-90s fastballs and good sliders are not hard to find these days.
And as the Rockies found holes, benefited from close calls — and hit a handful of balls hard, too — Fedde kept challenging Rockies, showing no signs of any lapse because of disappointment. That he allowed 10 hits and
walked two in four innings meant his debut will not be listed by Stephen Strasburg’s among the Nationals’ all-time greats. But the way he did it, with first-pitch strikes to 18 of 23 Rockies, with unrelenting defensive presence of mind — with a fearlessness to his confident tempo — nevertheless made an impression.
When Fedde got ahead of Charlie Blackmon and D.J. LeMahieu to start the game, but both singled anyway, he challenged Nolan Arenado with two fastball strikes, one on the outside corner, one on the inside corner. That, Nationals people would tell you, is Fedde.
That he ended up walking Arenado, at one point missing with a fastball that touched 97 mph as it sailed wide, seemed to be, in part, a prod-
uct of nerves. Pitching coach Mike Maddux came out to chat after that, and Fedde got a double-play ball to help him escape the inning with two runs of damage. In his first time working through a major league order, Fedde threw first-pitch strikes to every hitter in the formidable Rockies lineup.
Jose Lobaton caught Fedde on Sunday afternoon. Lobaton often catches rookies in games like these, as he is considered the better pitch framer of the Nationals’ catchers, and is known as a calming influence. But as Fedde climbed through the Nationals’ minor league system in three years — he lost the 2014 season to Tommy John surgery — he impressed with more than grit.
“Mentally, he seems to be a lot more advanced than what his age indicates,” his catcher in Syracuse, Pedro Severino, said through team interpreter Octavio Martinez. “... He doesn’t think like a lot of the other guys.”
Whatever Fedde was thinking after allowing runs in that first inning, it worked. He proceeded to strike out the side in the second, pouring in strike one, his fastball sitting from 94 to 96, his slider at 89.
Fedde did not throw change-ups in those first two innings. That pitch still qualifies as a project, one the Nationals wanted him to throw in spring training, much to his chagrin. Even though results didn’t really matter then, they mattered to him, and Fedde did not want to experiment.
But this season, as he moved from Class AA Harrisburg to facing more experienced opposition in Class AAA Syracuse, the Nationals wanted Fedde to learn to get outs in the strike zone. In Double-A, he got hitters with pitches out of the zone. More experienced hitters will not chase.
Sunday, Fedde had no trouble getting ahead of Rockies hitters,
even the all-stars at the top of the order. He didn’t look afraid. He did, however, have trouble burying them, which meant despite the early strikes he threw to Blackmon, LeMahieu and Arenado in the third, all three were able to work out singles in the end. They added two runs in that third inning, though Fedde got another doubleplay ball to limit damage.
So with the Nationals trailing, 4-1, and two men on in the third, Ryan Zimmerman — the first draft pick in Nationals history, chosen nearly a decade before Fedde — hit a slicing line drive into the right field corner that just eked over the wall. In so doing, he tied the game, and became the all-time leader among Washington players with 238 career homers.
But Fedde could not hold the Rockies down. More balls found holes than found barrels, but enough found both to give the Rockies three more runs. Seven
times in the first four innings, Fedde got ahead of batters 0-2, then did not bury them. In fairness, far more experienced starters than him have struggled against the Rockies.
Zimmerman hit another home run, his 24th of the year, in the bottom of the seventh. But the Nationals could not climb all the way back against the Rockies’ recently reinforced bullpen, despite a rally in the ninth that forced the Rockies to use closer Greg Holland, thereby helping the Nationals’ cause in Game 2.
So after the less, Fedde’s start leaves the Nationals with a decision: Do they allow Fedde the opportunity to start again? They need a fifth starter, and Edwin Jackson has been inconsistent. Fedde showed them enough to encourage them about what he might be able to bring in the future. But when exactly that future comes, this season or next, is what the Nationals must decide now.
Nationals starter Erick Fedde allowed seven runs in his major-league debut, but he threw first-pitch strikes to 18 of 23 Rockies, showing a fearlessness that might earn him another turn in the rotation.