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Erick Fedde on battle for 5th spot in Nationals’ rotation; 2021 spring debut...

Erick Fedde tossed 28 pitches in the first inning of his 2021 Grapefruit League debut, but took the positives from his 1st start of the year...

MLB: Washington Nationals at St. Louis Cardinals Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Erick Fedde has been in the mix for a rotation spot in each of the last few Spring Trainings, so battling for a job each year is nothing new for the 2014 1st Round pick, and Washington Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez said before Fedde started in their first Grapefruit League game of 2021 on Sunday afternoon, that the right-hander would have to separate himself from the pack again this spring to earn the opportunity.

“I think Fedde learned a lot about himself and who he is as a pitcher,” Martinez said. “So, you know, hopefully he comes in this year and he continues to develop and grow. He’s toyed around with a lot of different things and his mechanics and everything. This year, he just has to go out there and do his thing, and just pitch. Do his thing and, like I said, know who he is and just go out there and try to get outs, and stay within himself. He tries to do so many different things.”

The Nationals would seem to prefer, as Martinez explained, for Fedde to limit the tinkering and stick to what he does best.

“We often talk to him about, ‘Hey, just be you,’ the manager said. “Get outs, get to that next pitch. So it should be interesting with him. I thought last year, with everything else going on, he did a good job for us, he really did. So, hopefully he continues to develop and be that guy, that guy that wins the fifth starter’s spot.”

Fedde, who turned 28 this week, finished the 60-game, 2020 COVID campaign with a (2-4) record in 11 games (eight starts) and 50 1⁄3 innings pitched, over which he put up a 4.29 ERA, a 6.15 FIP, 22 walks (3.93 BB/9), 28 Ks (5.01 K/9), and a .247/.326/.487 line against in his 40 IP in starts.

What is the Nationals’ brass watching and what do they want to see from Fedde and the other starts in the mix for the fifth spot (Austin Voth, Joe Ross + more)?

“Somebody has got to win that spot out of here. So, we got some pretty good candidates,” Martinez said.

“These guys are going to get that opportunity and somebody is going to be our fifth starter.

“And Fedde has more than the ability to be that guy. So, I’m looking forward to watching him, like I said, watching him go out there and pitch. And he gets the ball today for the first game, so I just want him to go out there and like I said, throw strikes, and be him.”

Fedde was set to throw around 30 total pitches against the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday afternoon.

He ended up with 28, after giving up a leadoff single, back-to-back walks, and one run on a bases-loaded wild pitch before he got out of the bottom of the first, down 1-0.

Getting into trouble was not, of course, ideal, but having the opportunity to work out of the trouble, and his manager letting him do it, was big for his first outing of the spring.

“Definitely the first time out you don’t want to be in a jam, but happy he had the confidence for me to get out of it,” Fedde told reporters when he spoke after his outing.

“Fastball command just wasn’t great today, but being able to kind of battle through it, and I made some big pitches to stop a blow-up inning, and it gives me some confidence moving forward.”

After and up-and-down 2020 season filling in for the injured Stephen Strasburg, Fedde said finishing strong in his final three starts last summer gave him a boost of confidence going in to the offseason.

“I had three really good starts to end the year,” Fedde said. “Tried to take those things that were effective for me there at the end into the offseason and build off those.

“I think it’s important to not only work on some things that you were not great at, but keep working on the things that may be effective. So that was my big focus in the offseason.

“Spring Training is obviously very important. And just kind of trying to grow and continue to — at this point just get my fastball back in the zone, and really show that I can help the team and be a part of the roster.”

Finding himself once again fighting for the fifth spot in the rotation, Fedde said, is familiar territory.

MLB: Washington Nationals-Workouts Rhona Wise-USA TODAY Sports

“I feel like it’s been my storyline for as long as I can remember,” he laughed. “But I guess, it’s kind of become normal.

“But I’m rooting for all the guys with me, and I know they’re cheering me on, I think that’s what has made our team so successful over the years. I realize too that not everyone stays healthy all year.

“Sometimes you need to pick each other up, and I’m trying to always focus on wanting that position, and wanting to be the guy they call on to start the year, but if they need me later on, I’m going to be that guy.”

What happened in 2020, with starters going down and Stephen Strasburg’s season-ending injury providing an opportunity, is a perfect example of what Fedde was talking about.

“Yeah, exactly,” he said. “I just think it’s important to just always just be ready, especially since we have four guys that are very much established big leaguers, and a lot of us that want to be just like them. So, it’s a good mix.”

Will he force his way into the fifth spot? Will his remaining option result in a return to the minors until he’s needed? We’ll learn at the end of Spring Training.

Martinez’s assessment of Fedde’s first outing of 2021?

“He struggled a little bit throwing strikes, but you know what, when he needed to throw strikes — it could have been a lot worse. He got out of the inning.

“What I liked is that he controlled himself when things got hot, and he was able to get out of the inning without too much damage.”

“But the biggest thing for me is,” Martinez added, “he’s got to work ahead of hitters. You can’t fall behind.”