Image credit: Erick Fedde (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
JUPITER, Fla. — The Nationals added two catchers, a power-hitting second baseman and three starting pitchers in the offseason.
What they still lack is starting pitching depth. That’s where Erick Fedde comes in, and why his growth in 2019 is so important to the Nationals’ ambitions.
Fedde pitched two scoreless innings with three strikeouts in his spring debut, an encouraging start to what will be a crucial campaign for the onetime top prospect.
“I was really happy with my stuff,” Fedde said. “I was actually, I guess, a little surprised at myself. First day you’re expecting to struggle maybe a little or not find some stuff, but I was firing and just want to keep it right there.”
Fedde, 25, stands with Joe Ross as the Nationals’ only real rotation depth behind Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, Anibal Sanchez and Jeremy Hellickson. With Washington’s farm system light on upper-level pitching prospects, there isn’t much in reserve if someone gets hurt and Fedde falters as a replacement.
The 18th overall pick in 2014 out of Nevada-Las Vegas, Fedde rose to No. 82 on BA’s Top 100 Prospects list in 2016 and made his major league debut in 2017.
It’s been a struggle since. Fedde has a 6.44 ERA in 14 career starts with the Nationals, with batters hitting .311/.383/.529 against him. He got a chance at regular turns in Washington’s rotation at the end of last year and completed five innings only twice in five starts.
To that end, Fedde said he’s added 20 pounds this offseason to help become more durable. Beyond his durability, Fedde pinpointed another issue underlying his big league struggles.
“First-pitch strikes are going to be big for me this year, and that’s what I was shooting for today,” he said. “I had some times where I’ve struggled going deep in games because I’m picking at the plate, and it’s tough to pitch behind 2-0, 3-0. I think at this point I’m starting to get really comfortable and just trust that my stuff plays at this level.”
Fedde showed strides on that front in his spring debut, pounding the zone early and throwing 18 of 28 pitches for strikes. His fastball sat 93-94 mph and his 82-83 mph slider—lauded as a plus pitch when he was a prospect—got him all three of his strikeouts, with Dexter Fowler, Tyler O’Neill and Yairo Munoz all going down swinging.
It was the type of encouraging outing Fedde can build on, and one he hopes can finally set him on the right path to helping the Nationals this season whenever he’s called upon.
“We’ve come in and said last year we used (31) pitchers in the big leagues,” he said. “My goal is that go out there and take care of my business, and I think big leaguers don’t stay in Triple-A for long. So just go out there and take care of it and pitch like a big leaguer, eventually you’ll find your way up there.”