Coming off his second consecutive scoreless outing, Erick Fedde, who had a 3.86 ERA and a .219/.300/.363 line against in nine starts and 44 1⁄3 innings pitched this season after those starts, talked about the influence Washington Nationals’ pitching coach Jim Hickey has had on him over the first few months of the 2021 campaign.
“I think he’s been a big help with me,” Fedde told reporters in his post-start Zoom call last week. “I’ve said before, early in Spring Training he kind of broke down some of the things that the best sinker-ballers in the big leagues do and compared them to my stuff and we just tried to match up a few things of mine that were off.
“And I think that’s really just connected the dots, and then just being able to execute up in the zone for the first time in my career with the cutter has really opened up all four sections of the plate.”
Fedde referenced that conversation previously this season, telling reporters in late April that what Hickey and the rest of the coaching staff told him made an impact.
“We talked about my usage of pitches a lot,” Fedde said, “... how I’d really been like 60% fastballs or something ridiculously high compared to league average, so they were talking about maybe mixing things [up] a little more, keeping guys more off-balance could be something that’s very effective and I’m reaping the benefits of that conversation.”
“He’s done well,” manager Davey Martinez said after Fedde faced the San Francisco Giants last weekend, throwing five scoreless in his return from close to a month on the COVID-IL.
“Two things that stick out, one, his confidence, and two his ability to throw all four of his pitches when he wants to and throw strikes. That’s huge.”
Asked about the conversations Fedde and Hickey had this spring, and their impact on the 28-year-old righty, Martinez said that the Nationals’ pitching coach also altered the club’s 2014 1st Round pick’s mechanics as well as his pitch mix.
“It had to do a lot with his arm angle and the way he held the ball with his wrist,” Martinez said, mimicking the motions as he talked, “up as opposed to being down a little bit, and it resonated with him. He started throwing the ball really well, along with some other things that they corrected, but it’s been good for Fedde.”
“I’ve known Hickey for a long time,” Martinez added, “... and when it comes to mechanics, he’s really good, really good at pinpointing stuff, and I think Fedde really enjoyed the conversations he’s had so far with Hickey and what he can do and what he can learn from him.”
Looking at Fedde’s numbers though, he’s still throwing a lot of fastballs, still mostly sinkers (44.7%), and cutters (26.5%, up from 16.6% last season), with less four-seam fastballs (from 11.6% in 2020, down to 1.1% this year).
He’s throwing his changeup more, 13.5%, up from 9.5%, and his curveball a little bit less, 18.4% in 2020, down to 14.2% this year, and hitters have a .074 AVG on the curve, down significantly from .214, and hitters have a .220 AVG on his cutter, a .095 AVG on his change, and a .309 AVG on his sinker. That last one stands out, no? We asked Martinez what’s going on with Fedde’s sinker, against which hitters had a .275 AVG last year.
“It’s just the location,” Martinez said, “that’s all it is. If you’re a sinker-ball pitcher, you can’t get the ball up, you got to get the ball down, that’s why you’re throwing sinkers, and he’s got to understand that, but the rest of his pitches he’s been good. His ground ball rate, which I always preach to him, he should be a ground ball guy, he should be getting a lot of ground balls, a lot of weak contact ground balls. He’s been better as of late, so hopefully he continues in that trend.”
Fedde started the night against the New York Mets with a streak of 13-straight scoreless innings going, and finished it with 20-straight scoreless after tossing seven strong in an impressive outing in which he gave up two hits and four walks, striking out six of the 25 batters he faced in a 100-pitch outing in which he induced 10 ground ball outs, holding Mets’ hitters off the board before his own teammates finally came through in the ninth, when a walk-off single by Yan Gomes won it.
Erick Fedde’s Line: 7.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 4 BB, 6 Ks, 100 P, 61 S, 10/3 GO/FO.
“What an unbelievable job Fedde did for us today,” Martinez said after the club’s fifth win in a row.
“He’s got some confidence right now, he really does,” the manager continued. “And he’s throwing the ball well. He’s throwing all of his pitches really well, locating really well, a lot of time, if you notice, he’s going 0-2, 1-2, and he’s trying to make that really nasty pitch, all he’s got to do is continue throwing the ball the way he’s throwing when he’s 0-2, and he’s going to get outs.
“But like I said, what a job he did today to keep us in that game. I mean, he was awesome, he really was, and if we can continue to get starts from him like that every five days, we’re going to be in good shape.”
Martinez liked what he saw so much, that he left Fedde in to face lefty Billy McKinney even as his pitch count approached 100 total. McKinney grounded out, and the Nationals put on the next left-handed hitter, Luis Guillorme to get to catcher Tomás Nido, who grounded out sharply to third to end the threat and keep it a 0-0 game.
“I saw him throwing the ball well,” Martinez said of the decision to stick with his starter.
“You got to remember, Fedde missed some time, he only threw four innings, came back out and threw five innings.
“So we were keeping a close eye on him, want to make sure that if things went awry we had a guy up and ready, but I kept watching him, and he kept on throwing the ball really good, I mean, he was throwing the ball at 95, and I told Hickey, ‘I’m going to let him go,’ you know, and I decided to walk Guillorme to get to Nido in the situation, with first base open, and he got a big ground ball for us and got us out of the inning.”
Fedde’s reaction to getting through that seventh inning?
“Ecstatic,” he said in his own post game Zoom call with reporters.
“Giving the team a chance to win. Any time I can put up zeroes across the board I’m going to be really happy. Just one of those games where I think I had a ton of help too, Yan was phenomenal throwing guys out, Trea [Turner] made a couple nice plays. Just felt like — and plus we’re playing the first place Mets, that’s just one of those ones we all know we need to win these games.”
Fedde said it’s meant a lot to him to come up big for his team in recent weeks with the Nats shorthanded in the rotation, with Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg currently on the IL.
“A lot of my career has been being called up for somebody being down, and I think this is the first time I can really say I feel like I fulfilled that role, so for me that’s — part of self-accomplishment, something I’m happy with, and something I’m sure that the coaching staff, and everyone above that was hoping for, so for that to just kind of finally happen, I mean, it’s nice, and I just want to continue to do that, and make sure those guys get back and watch us have a hell of a pitching staff.”
What has his catcher seen from Fedde that’s lead to his success this season?
“Just pure luck, I think,” Gomes joked. “No. No. Going into it we talked about it a little bit earlier in the year where the dude is starting to mature, he’s starting to learn the kind of pitcher that he is and I think we talked about it during spring. He gained a lot of confidence on some of his pitches, kind of cleaned his mechanics up, and you’re starting to see the kind of pitcher that probably everyone thought he was going to be. I think he’s starting to learn how to just attack the zone. He’s got 2-3 tremendous pitches. So, with him, just try to simplify it, and just attack hitters like he’s doing right now. He’s starting to find his punch-out pitches and things that he can just eat up innings, get early outs or everything like that.”
”It’s awesome,” Ryan Zimmerman said of the growth his seen from Fedde over the years since the Nationals drafted the right-hander with their first round pick in 2014. “I think you’re kind of seeing a guy that has learned and evolved as a pitcher. It’s not easy to to be successful in this league, at this level, and some guys it happens right away, some guys there’s a few bumps in the road and some guys don’t adapt and some guys do, and I think Fedde has adapted and I think his attitude on the mound is a lot different now, he’s kind of just — when it’s his day to pitch, he goes out there and he’s just going to go at the guys, he pounds the zone, and when you have a guy like that that works fast, throws strikes, with the sinker he’s got going, they’re going to put it in play, so the defense is ready, it’s been awesome to kind of watch him evolve as a player, and it’s fun to play behind a guy like that.”
So which came first for Fedde, the confidence, or the success. Did he have to be confident in himself to have success, or does success breed confidence? Is it a chicken/egg thing?
“I think — confidence is key going into every start, so probably starting with that, but it’s a lot easier to be confident and move well and have fun when things are going your way, so I mean, yeah — but every time I step out there I have to tell myself I belong here, I need to pitch with aggression and think I’m better than whoever steps into that box.”