WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Erick Fedde’s stock within the Nationals organization rose by default this winter when the team included top pitching prospects Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez in its trade for center fielder Adam Eaton.
The right-hander’s stock has continued to rise this spring, and that’s entirely of his own doing.
Fedde has made a strong impression in his first major league camp, culminating with today’s five scoreless innings against most of the Mets’ best hitters.
“He’s facing a very strong lineup; that’s their A lineup,” manager Dusty Baker said. “He was masterful.”
Fedde retired the first 10 batters he faced, didn’t let a ball leave the infield until the fourth inning, and struck out the likes of Yoenis Cespedes and Curtis Granderson.
This wasn’t the first time the 24-year-old has faced quality major league hitters this spring, but it only reinforced the notion that he’s not far from being ready to pitch at the highest level.
“It’s great to see that my stuff played against a big league team,” he said. “It’s going to give me some confidence. After the last start, this one’s a big one to get under my belt.”
Fedde had struggled his last time out, allowing five runs to the Marlins in 1 2/3 innings. His ability to make adjustments offered by pitching coach Mike Maddux and deploy them in today’s game was a particularly encouraging sign.
“Yeah, for sure,” he said. “I think my biggest problem last game was not attacking and falling behind. That’s what I did this time. I told myself: No matter what, I’m going to attack the guys, and whatever happens, happens.”
It’s still not entirely clear what happens next for Fedde. With Tanner Roark returning to camp now that the World Baseball Classic has ended, there shouldn’t be any more available rotation slots, so a demotion to minor league camp would appear to be forthcoming.
But club officials no doubt will head north with an even more favorable opinion of the young right-hander than they did when they arrived here, boding well for his chances to reach the majors sometime in 2017.
“He was close when he got here,” Baker said. “Who knows what’s going to happen injury-wise or whatever. He’s one of the guys at the very top of the list in case something happens, or just through natural progression of pitching. He’s a guy that was sought-after by many (other teams this winter), and you understood why today.”
* Decision time has come for Joe Nathan, who is allowed to opt out of his minor league contract beginning Friday if the Nationals haven’t placed him on their major league roster. The 42-year-old reliever made one final case for himself this afternoon, pitching on back-to-back days for the first time this spring and striking out Cespedes with a 92 mph fastball.
The Nationals like what they’ve seen from Nathan, the longtime major league closer who is attempting one final comeback from his second Tommy John surgery. But they’re also facing a roster crunch in their very crowded bullpen, making it unlikely they’ll have a spot to offer him come opening day.
“I can’t say right now,” Baker said. “We’re still trying to sort through the numbers. Joe wasn’t that good the other day in the first inning (when he gave up three straight hits to the Cardinals), but he was great the next inning. Today, he came in to get a very tough Cespedes here. That shows the resiliency of his arm, for him to go back-to-back days like that. That’s what you’re going to do in a championship season. ... We’ve got some very tough decisions to make.”
* Tied into the Nathan decision is the decision on left-hander Enny Romero, who at this point has nearly compelled the club to keep him in the opening day bullpen.
Romero retired the side in the top of the sixth today, his fifth scoreless outing in a Nationals uniform this spring. Combine that with his 2 2/3 scoreless innings pitching for the Dominican Republic in the WBC, and he now has allowed only two batters to reach base (one hit, one walk) in 7 2/3 innings this spring.
The knock on Romero, who walked a massive 5.5 batters per nine innings last season with the Rays, was his lack of command. But he has made some adjustments since then and put the Nationals in a position where they almost can’t say no. The lefty is out of options, so he can’t be sent to the minors without first being exposed to waivers.
“The thing I like about him is he has shown he can throw his breaking ball 3-2, or behind in the count, to get them off his fastball,” Baker said. “It’s my understanding they had taken that pitch almost away from him in his last stop. So his ability to do that ... his confidence level is high. I think that the WBC really helped him to control the nerves. If you can pitch there, you can pitch anywhere under any circumstances. He’s been very impressive.”