Though he was clear that in the long-run the Nationals still view top pitching prospect Erick Fedde as a starter, GM Mike Rizzo told reporters last week that the 24-year-old righty would transition to relief work at Double-A in the hope he can come up and help out of the major league bullpen at some point this season.
“We’ve employed this development tactic before,’ Rizzo explained when he met with the press in PNC Park.
“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.”
“Also, being a couple years out of Tommy John,” Rizzo continued, “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.”
So how did Fedde, a 2014 1st Round pick, taken 18th overall after undergoing Tommy John surgery that June, learn he would start working as a reliever with the Harrisburg Senators?
“It was actually the day of my start in Trenton,” Fedde told Sirius/XM Minors and Majors host Grant Paulsen in an interview on Sunday morning.
“I had just finished an outing and I was just sitting there in the clubhouse changing, getting ready for the bus, and they told me to come into the office. I came in there and all the coaches were just sitting there and our pitching coordinator was on the speaker phone and right away he just goes, ‘Hey, we’re going to have a move we’re taking pretty seriously here.
“‘We want you to go to the bullpen because we’re having a few issues and we think maybe we can find some in-house solutions and that might be you.’
“They pretty much told me this is something they want me to take really seriously and see if I could be effective out of the bullpen.”
The early returns are positive. In his first five appearances as a reliever, Fedde has given up seven hits, two walks and three runs, striking out 11 and holding opposing hitters to a .259 AVG.
He admitted that he wasn’t sure what to think initially, but said he is settling in to his new role.
After giving up runs in each of his first three relief appearances, Fedde has thrown three scoreless innings over his last two outings.
“At first, I didn’t think it was going to be a big deal,” Fedde said. “I was like, ‘Well, okay, perfect. Now I can just come in and throw as hard as I can and try to punch guys out.’
“I learned really quickly it’s a lot different. You have to be moving through all nine innings, because you never know when you’re going in.
“It actually doesn’t change much in the sense that you really have to pitch because sometimes the situations are much bigger in the eighth inning, tie game.
“The thing for me was mistakes were amplified. The first few outings I gave up a run and you come out of the game and you feel just awful that that was your one inning to do a good job and if it doesn’t go well, you might have let the team down, big time.
“For sure it’s a little bit of an adjustment, and something that I look to get better at here as time goes on.”
Fedde was asked how his stuff is different and if he’s airing it out now and enjoying going out there for an inning or two knowing he can go 100% and not have to pace himself for an extended outing.
“I would say the velo hasn’t changed much in the sense of maybe the lowest number isn’t as low,” Fedde said.
“Usually as a starter I’d be like 91-95 [mph], maybe hit  a couple times, but here I feel like from what I’ve seen it’s been more like [93 to 96], and hitting the higher numbers a lot more consistently. Like the average fastball I feel like has been right around 95, so that’s kind of fun to have.
“It’s nice to come out of the pen and say, ‘Here’s my best stuff. I don’t have to see you again, here’s my slider. I don’t care if I have to throw it three times to you because I probably won’t face you again.’
“So it’s something cool that I can chase strikeouts in that sense and get guys in holes early, that way they swing at off-speed early in the count.”
If it sounds like he’s having fun getting into the new role and striking batters out, he is.
“There’s nothing better than striking guys out,” Fedde added.
“That’s the pitcher’s way of hitting a home run in a sense, and it’s great chasing strikeouts. It’s something fun and it’s a great feeling when you do it.”
Though he doesn’t know exactly what the future holds, Fedde said he was excited about the possibilities.
“It’s something that it’s exciting to think about knowing that they’re thinking I could help the big league team at that level and a team that looks like it could be a playoff team, it’s just exciting and something I really do want to become a reality, but just kind of stay focused and realize I’m not there yet.”