Earlier this week, reports of the Washington Nationals’ decision to convert top pitching prospect Erick Fedde into a reliever for the rest of the season came out in the press.
Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo addressed the topic before Wednesday night’s matchup with the Pittsburgh Pirates in PNC Park.
“It kind of filled a few things that we were looking to do,” Rizzo explained of the plan to turn the Nationals’ 2014 1st Round pick into a reliever for the rest of the season so that he can potentially help out of the ‘pen at the big league level.
“First of all, we’ve employed this development tactic before,’ Rizzo continued.
“It’s often good to get a minor league prospect’s feet wet in the big leagues out of the bullpen. We still view him as an effective major league starter.
“This is a good way to get your feet wet in the big leagues. Your big league time, you start in the bullpen, we can gradually stretch you out and put you back as a starter at any time.
“Also, being a couple years out of Tommy John, we’re still controlling his innings and this is a way that we can make sure that he can pitch the whole season with us and stay within our pitching parameters as far as innings go and it addresses a direct need for us in the big leagues.”
The need in the Nationals’ bullpen is a glaring one. Entering play on Thursday, the Nats’ relievers had the second-highest ERA in the National League (5.31), second-highest FIP (4.74), second-highest HR/9 (1.64), highest batting average against (.278), and the third highest BABIP against (.320).
Dusty Baker explained last weekend that while the Nationals would love to land a closer, no one is trading right now, and if they are, the ask will be prohibitive for a team with a well-documented need.
FanRag.com’s Jon Heyman wrote this week that the Nationals have begun searching for a closer in earnest.
The Nationals, Heyman reported, “... have begun making calls now for [a] closer, and while they haven’t found anyone who’s immediately available,” the Chicago White Sox’ David Robertson, “... is very likely to become available and perhaps makes the most sense,” and they have discussed other options.:
“They have spoken internally about many possibilities... including Kansas City Royals closer Kelvin Herrera, Tampa Bay Rays closer Alex Colome, San Francisco Giants closer Mark Melancon, Miami Marlins closer A.J. Ramos, and Toronto Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna.”
So will the Nats solve some of their bullpen issues by promoting from within or by trading for a closer using their remaining prospect depth? Or both, maybe?
And what about what Rizzo has seen from Fedde that makes him think the righty could work as a late-inning arm in the majors?
“What impressed me mostly in major league camp was the way he attacked hitters,” Rizzo said.
“[Fedde] goes right after guys with two power pitches. It was mandatory that he threw X amount of changeups in all of his starts in the minor leagues. He feels really, really good about that pitch now, we had some of our best pitching guys on it.
“The transition will take place like it always does. Spin Williams goes in and we kind of transform him slowly from the starter to a reliever, and that takes time, we don’t just throw him out there and say, ‘You’re a reliever.’ We have to manage the transition and get him comfortable in the role.”
Rizzo went on to say that with the way he was developing, Fedde was going to end up in the majors at some point this season.
The idea of putting Fedde in a relief role, he explained, was something they discussed before the bullpen struggles began early this season.
“We thought all along that if we were to see Fedde in the big leagues this year, it would probably be in a relief role, a long reliever, that type of thing,” Rizzo said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.
“But as the bullpen struggled and we had three guys on the disabled list at one time, we thought this was a good time to use the transformation to get him into the bullpen.”
Fedde made his first relief appearance this season and his second relief appearance as a reliever as a pro this week, giving up single, walk, and run out of the bullpen for the Double-A Harrisburg Senators.
On the year, Fedde has a 3.30 ERA, 3.62 FIP, 15 walks (3.09 BB/9), 37 Ks (7.63 K/9), and a .212 BAA in 43 2⁄3 innings pitched.
If you didn’t watch him this Spring, and aren’t familiar with Fedde yet, here’s the right-hander’s scouting report on himself from a Sirius/XM interview last month.
“I’m a guy that tries to really attack the zone and work quickly,” Fedde said.
“A big two-seam fastball guy. I’ll feed a large portion of those throughout the game, trying to get a ton of ground balls, and then the slider is my first go-to pitch when it comes to putting guys away. Now I’ve been adding a changeup and a curveball here, helping keep guys off-balance.
“If I had to describe myself, it would be a guy who is just attacking for ground balls.”