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The rise of Erick Fedde: Washington Nationals’ 2014 1st Round pick debuts today vs Rockies...

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Erick Fedde is ready to make his MLB debut this afternoon in the first game of the Nationals’ doubleheader with the Rockies...

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MLB: Washington Nationals-Media Day Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

NATIONALS SELECT ERICK FEDDE 18TH OVERALL IN 2014 MLB DRAFT

Washington Nationals’ Assistant GM and VP of Scouting Kris Kline came away from a trip to watch Erick Fedde pitch at UNLV back in 2014 convinced that the Nats didn’t have a shot at getting the right-hander at No. 18 overall, their first pick of the draft that June.

“I actually saw his first start of the year at UNLV,” Kline said, “and it was really, really good. I walked out of there thinking that we've got no shot at getting this player because he's a Top 5-type guy. Through the sixth inning he was still 95-98 [mph]. He doesn't throw anything straight. A lot of life, very heavy. Above-average slider, up to 88 and the makings and flashes of an above-average changeup. A lot of strikes. Very competitive guy. Looks a lot like, if you guys remember Jack McDowell, body-type, delivery, that type of thing with a little more fastball."

Fedde fell to the Nationals at 18 overall when he injured his right elbow and was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery in the weeks leading up to the Draft.

"He's a plus stuff guy," Nationals’ GM Rizzo explained after making the right-hander the Nats’ top pick.

"We've scouted him intensely over the last three years. He's got two plus plus pitches and his third pitch, the changeup is on the come. We think that's going to be an above-average pitch. Big physical guy, and we had him towards the top of our draft board and we thought the risk of him rehabbing and coming back to pre-injury form was worth the draft pick."

New York Mets v Washington Nationals Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

"When I left [UNLV] he was a definite candidate to be a front-line starter in the big leagues," Kline added. "So, I still feel that's what he is. The guy that we could have taken behind him — with Erick being healthy, after — post-surgery, we still feel like he's the better guy. So, again, I think it was an easy pick for us there."

Fedde said he was happy, and a little surprised to get picked where he did.

"After Tommy John I was just hoping going into the Draft that I would get selected, hopefully, in the first round still,” he said a few days following his selection.

“That was my expectation and hope and I was lucky enough for that to happen."

Kline said the Nationals felt comfortable with the risk in drafting Fedde, and like Rizzo, was confident the right-hander would return to form following surgery and contribute in the majors one day.

“We're never going to take a hurt guy,” he explained, “... whether it's a guy like Fedde, or somebody that's going to require surgery, unless we feel that he can get to the big leagues quick.”

3 YEARS LATER - FEDDE’S FIRST SPRING TRAINING/CHANGEUP DEVELOPS:

“Fedde is one of our top prospects that’s in big league camp,” Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo explained in an MLB Network Radio interview this past Spring, at the start of Fedde’s third season in the Nats’ system.

“We want to get him a taste of it and see where he’s at so he’s not in awe when he gets to the big leagues and he’s a guy we have high expectations [for].”

Dusty Baker was impressed with what he saw from the right-hander in Spring Training, telling reporters, as quoted by Washington Post writer Chelsea Janes, that he made a strong impression.

“You like his aptitude, that’s what you like probably more than anything,” Baker said.

“That’s what you like to see out of young players. He pays attention. He doesn’t say much, but you see he’s always paying attention.”

“He’s one of the guys at the very top of the list in case something happens, or just through natural progression of pitching.”

Fedde said his big takeaway from his time in big league camp, after he went (2-0) with a 3.29 ERA and a .184 BAA in Grapefruit League action, was how hard major leaguers worked even early in Spring Training.

New York Mets v Washington Nationals Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

“Just showing up every day,” he told Sirius/XM host Daron Sutton in late April, “... and seeing just everyone in the clubhouse already and everyone was working so hard it was kind of like, I guess, contagious in the sense that you see everyone working so hard it reminded me that maybe I’m not working as hard as some of these big league guys and it was kind of cool to see and build routines off of what they were doing.”

Asked to describe himself as a pitcher, here’s what Fedde had to say:

“I’m a guy that tries to really attack the zone and work quickly. 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.”

The changeup, he said, was something he was still getting used to, but something the Nationals wanted to make sure he was throwing in his minor league starts.

“It’s just — the idea of throwing something slower when you can beat a lot of guys and get late, bad swings on your fastball,” Fedde said.

“It’s something that it’s really tough to trust, especially when you’re working on it and you give up hard-hit baseballs, just to stick with it. But it’s something I’m getting a much better feel for and last game I was extremely happy with it, so it’s coming along nicely.”

“My last start I was supposed to throw it 15-20 times, to make sure that — pretty much was told that we want to learn the changeup now rather than learning it in front of 40,000 here in the future. So, just something I’m getting the feel for and making sure I can throw in every count.”

FEDDE MOVES TO BULLPEN/BACK TO STARTING/GETS THE CALL:

With a need in the major league bullpen, the Nationals moved Fedde into a relief role in the minors, giving the right-hander a crash course in relief work, but after a few weeks, and a promotion to Triple-A Syracuse, the top-ranked pitching prospect in the organization returned to the starting rotation with the Chiefs.

“We moved him up to Triple-A, we put him in the bullpen for a short period of time to get him acclimated to being a relief pitcher because he’s never done it before, but first and foremost it was to control his innings,” Rizzo explained in a Sirius/GM Fantasy chat with Craig Mish and Jim Bowden.

“He’s under a Tommy John protocol, he’s on an innings limit this year and we’ll protect him as we do all of our pitchers, so to slow down his pitching clock we put him in the bullpen and controlled his innings. We’re ramping him back up and stretching him back out as a starter.”

“There’s always a possibility that if we need to go and grab him in a time of need that we would do so,” Rizzo continued.

“We think he’s that close to being ready, he’s got the make-up to do it, to make the jump to the big leagues and he’s always a possibility.”

That possibility became a reality when Stephen Strasburg was lifted two innings into his start against the Arizona Diamondbacks last weekend in Chase Field.

Strasburg landed on the DL with a right elbow nerve impingement, and Baker said it would be Fedde coming up to take the ‘09 No. 1 overall pick’s turn in the rotation.

“[Fedde] is coming up and he’ll get a start, we just backed up Stras for precaution, and so he’ll miss one turn, and good thing this is where the 10-Day DL comes in effect to help you.”

“He’s been a guy who progressed very quickly after Tommy John surgery,” Rizzo told reporters, as quoted by MASN’s Byron Kerr on Saturday night.

“With the protocol we went through this year, we kind of shortened him up to save some innings for the back end of the season.

“I think since he’s been stretched out and gotten more comfortable at the Triple-A level. We feel he’s able to get guys out now in the strike zone, which was something we wanted him to do. That’s the reason we sent him to Triple-A. In Double-A, he was getting guys out outside the strike zone, and in Triple A, he was able to make that adjustment.”

Through 27 games and 11 starts this season, the 24-year-old righty has a 3.96 ERA, 21 walks, and 69 Ks in 77 13 IP. This afternoon, in the second of three with the Colorado Rockies in D.C., Fedde will get to test himself against major league hitters for the first time, three years after the Nationals gambled on the starter with the 18th overall pick of the 2014 Draft.