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Washington Nationals 2021 Stories: Erick Fedde learns Sam Clay’s curveball grip…

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This week we’re going to highlight some of our favorite stories that got lost in the shuffle during the day-to-day drama of the 2021 season in D.C.

Washington Nationals v Miami Marlins Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Erick Fedde talked, after he struck out a career-high 10 of the 25 batters he faced in a 103-pitch effort against the Miami Marlins in August, about adjusting his curveball grip following a talk with a teammate, left-handed reliever Sam Clay. Fedde threw his curveball 38 times overall in that outing (37% of his 103 pitches, up from a season-average of 17.6% of the time to that point), and generated 21 swings and nine swinging strikes, while recording three called strikes with the pitch, which his manager said was the best curveball he’d seen the 28-year-old throw.

“His breaking ball was really, really, really on tonight,” Washington Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez told reporters after the outing.

“It was a little shorter than normal today,” the manager added, “and he had a late break on it, so definitely was really good today … when you can get ahead like he was tonight, he utilized it really well.”

“Honestly, about four or five starts ago I had a talk with Sam Clay,” Fedde explained, “… ‘cause — I know he’s lefty — but I thought we threw kind of similar, and I was looking at — I don’t know, when I’m sitting on the bench I look through the iPads of people pitching and, I don’t know, I just kind of had a conversation with him on how he threw it and I adopted the grip and it immediately clicked. I think the last four or five starts I’ve had more swings and misses on it, or bad takes, and ever since then it’s just been good, so I’m thankful for him.”

It wasn’t a big change, Fedde said, but more of a slight grip alteration.

“Slid to a different seam on the ball,” he said, “and didn’t really change, I guess, the way I was throwing it, just the way I was gripping it, and I think it’s just had way more bite and hitters definitely aren’t seeing it as well.”

Being able to locate the pitch was as important as any changes to the grip, Fedde said.

“I think landing it in the zone early, and then being able to throw it out of the zone, that’s probably the biggest —effectiveness of it, and when people have to sit on it and trust that it might be in the zone, it sets up heaters and cutters also in the zone.”

“It opened up a lot of windows,” Fedde’s catcher in that game, Tres Barrera, said of the effectiveness of the curveball. “It opened up a window with the cutter, opened up the sinker, it set us up for the rest of the at bat when we were able to get strike one with that breaking ball, and he did a great job, man.”

Fedde finished the 2021 campaign with a 5.26 ERA, a 4.66 FIP, 48 walks (3.24 BB/9), and 128 strikeouts (8.64 K/9) in 29 games, 27 starts, and 133 1⁄3 IP, with a .270/.333/.461 line against in 131 2⁄3 IP as a starter.

He leaned on the curve down the stretch, and ended up throwing it more than he’d thrown it before in his big league career (23.4% of the time overall, with a .217 BAA on the pitch), but he acknowledged late in the year that he might have fallen in love with the curve, and become a bit too predictable, throwing it 37%-45% of the time in his outings over the final month.

“Maybe [it’s] something that’s becoming part of the [scouting] report, and something I need to be more effective with the other pitches, maybe a little higher percentage of those going forward.”