The Washington Nationals rely on starting pitching to win games, but they haven’t been able to establish a starting rotation in a surreal 2020 season that is now almost one-third over.
Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg have each been injured and turned in one-inning starts, and Strasburg’s status moving forward is unclear at best.
But in both emergency appearances for each of the Nationals’ feared aces, the Nats got superior performance from 27-year-old righty Erick Fedde.
After he delivered 5 2⁄3 scoreless innings in relief of Strasburg on Friday, the fourth-year major leaguer said he is happy to be adaptable for his teammates.
“Luckily enough, at least the two this year I’ve had a little bit of heads up,” Fedde said. “Like with Max, we knew his hamstring was bugging him. I knew today Stras might not be feeling his best. So it’s a little easier going in mentally prepared for it.”
The appearance came two days after from a two-inning performance against the New York Mets, but Fedde says he’s handling the extra work.
“Actually I felt pretty good. I guess that’s uncharted territory for me, in this sense, but I definitely say I wasn’t expecting 5 1⁄3, but luckily was able to be really efficient and get through that.”
In the days of four-man rotations, a fifth starter was known as a “swing man” because he’d be used mainly out of the bullpen and make a spot start for an injured or overworked teammate. That’s what Fedde is providing this year, starting two games and appearing out of the bullpen in three more, including the emergency appearances for Scherzer and Strasburg.
The Nats have needed quality innings in those cases, and Fedde has given them even more, keeping opponents off the scoreboard with remarkable consistency. He’s third on the team with 17 2⁄3 innings pitched. Of those innings, 12 have been shutout innings, including the 5 1⁄3 in relief of Strasburg. Teams have scored more than one run against him only twice this season.
Manager Davey Martinez says Fedde will go back into the rotation until Strasburg’s status is determined.
“Right now, as you’ve seen Fedde came in yesterday and threw the ball well,” Martinez said Saturday. “Here’s a guy that’s going to get a chance to start in [Strasburg’s] spot, and we’ll go from there.”
Fedde is not as stingy as the other Nats’ pitchers when it comes to base runners. His 18 hits and nine walks were both second most on the team heading into Saturday’s game. But what he excels at is limiting damage, especially with two out. He’s allowed no runs and only three hits in two-out situations this year. He’s also allowed only two home runs, neither with a man on base.
His weakness has been the two-out walk, issuing four of his nine free passes with two out. Fortunately for the Nats, none of those runners has scored.
The Nats will need their healthy starters to pitch up to their potential if they are to make up any of their four-game deficit in the National League East. But having an effective “swing man” like Fedde gives them plenty of options.