Erick Fedde threw a total of 112 pitches in six innings in his final 2017 start, in spite of the fact that the 24-year-old right-hander’s velocity was noticeably down in the outing against the New York Mets.
Both Washington’s starter and now-former Nationals’ skipper Dusty Baker talked after that game about what was going on with the 2014 first-round pick on the mound.
“I couldn’t tell between his changeup and his fastballs,” Baker acknowledged, noting that the scoreboard operator too was having trouble telling the difference.
“They were saying changeup on the board up there, but it looked like they were fastballs to me. He wasn’t throwing as hard as he usually does.”
Baker was asked if he thought the drop in velocity was a cause for concern.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I think he has under 100 innings this year, so I don’t know what the problem is.”
Fedde was up to 105 2⁄3 innings at that point, actually, with 56 1⁄3 innings pitched at Double-A Harrisburg (3.04 ERA, 3.24 FIP, 2.88 BB/9, 8.63 K/9), 34 IP at Triple-A Syracuse (4.76 ERA, 3.54 FIP, 1.32 BB/9, 6.62 K/9), and 15 1⁄3 innings with the Nationals (9.39 ERA, 7.20 FIP, 4.70 BB/9, 8.80 K/9).
He worked in relief some in the minors as the Nationals tried to find answers in the major league bullpen early last summer, but ended up starting in each of his three major league appearances after things were sorted out in the ‘pen before and at the non-waiver trade deadline.
The movement between the bullpen and rotation also, GM Mike Rizzo noted, allowed the team to control his innings.
Fedde said he wasn’t that concerned with his velocity in what would end up being his final outing of the season, though he didn’t know it at the time.
“I’m not too worried about it,” he said.
“I think it’s something that it’s late in the year, maybe just the body is a little sore, a little tired, but I think it will be right back up there.”
Moving up and down, he acknowledged, with his three starts for the Nationals spread out between July 30th, August 6th, and August 27th, and trips back to Triple-A as the Nats waited to see when they needed the top pitching prospect in the organization in the majors.
“It’s one of the stranger parts of the game,” Fedde acknowledged. “I haven’t really been on true five-day rotation in a little while. You’ve just got to continue to prepare like you’re going to throw every fifth day and if you get pushed back you just treat it like a rain delay. You travel a lot, but you just got to pretend like it’s not happening.”
A week after he faced the Mets, Fedde’s 2017 campaign came to an end with GM Mike Rizzo announcing that the righty, who underwent Tommy John surgery shortly before he was drafted 18th overall in 2014, had suffered a strain of the flexor mass in his right arm.
“We shut him down in an abundance of caution,” Rizzo said.
“He’s a guy that would have probably missed a start or two, but he’s been through a lot this season. We started him in Spring Training as a starter, shortened his innings up as a reliever and then stretched him out as a starter, so we felt that it’s a good time to shut him down to get healthy and prepare for next Spring Training.”
The drop in velocity in his last outing, Rizzo said, was something they noticed, but it was not the first sign of an issue.
“We knew what was going on the previous start in Triple-A and then in the big leagues, so we saw a trend and that’s part of the reason we did the course of action we did.”
Rizzo and Baker both said that Fedde had not complained of any issues heading in to what ended up being his final start in 2017, though Baker later said Fedde admitted that he wasn’t 100% afterwards.
“If they’re not feeling right, you want them to say something about it,” Baker told reporters, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.
“We had to look at the signs on the board there. I asked him: ‘How come you didn’t say something?’
“He said we had a doubleheader, he knew we were short of pitching. That was a valiant team effort, but I wish he had let us know, because we would’ve tried to do something different.”
“He didn’t feel any unusual soreness or anything like that,” Rizzo explained.
“The good thing is the MRI came back clean, the elbow looks really good and the flexor mass strain is down the [farthest] away from the elbow as could be possible, it’s more in the middle of the belly of the flexor mass, so those are all good things, and we’re really pleased with the way the MRI came back.”
The expectation, as of early September at least, was that Fedde would be ready for the start of Spring Training and in line to contribute at the major league level.
“He’s a guy we’re going to be counting on in the rotation for next year and beyond,” Rizzo said. “He’s part of the next wave of guys that we’re going to be counting on.”
Baseball America still has Fedde ranked as the top pitching prospect and No. 3 overall prospect in the organization.
Did the way he was handled, with the move to relief work, and return to starting in the majors benefit his development in the end?
“I think it was beneficial to him,” Rizzo told reporters in September.
“Because he tasted the big leagues, tasted Triple-A for the first time. As we controlled his innings, he got a taste of pitching out of the bullpen and then as a starter in the big leagues. I think it’s going to be beneficial for his developmental curve. I think it’s really going to give him a giant step forward coming into Spring Training next year.”