Nats’ Fedde im­presses in de­but loss

Rock­ies 10 — Na­tion­als 6 NL BASE­BALL

The Star Democrat - - SPORTS -

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.

KATHER­INE FREY/WPNS

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.

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