MIAMI - The injury Erick Fedde is now dealing with - a strained flexor mass in his forearm - wouldn’t typically require a long layoff. But given the situation both the Nationals and Fedde are in right now, at this stage of the season, the club has decided to not to send its top pitching prospect back to the mound until next spring.
“We shut him down in an abundance of caution,” general manager Mike Rizzo said. “He’s a guy that would’ve probably missed a start or two. But he’s been through a lot this season. Started him off in spring training as a starter, kind of shortening up his innings as a reliever, and then stretched him out as a starter. We felt it was a good time to shut him down and to get healthy and prepared for next spring training.”
More than a few eyebrows were raised eight days ago when Fedde’s velocity dropped several notches in a start against the Mets at Nationals Park, down from an average of 94 mph to 91 mph. Rizzo noted there were signs in Fedde’s previous start at Triple-A Syracuse, as well. The right-hander, though, insists he never felt any abnormal discomfort in his arm.
The Nationals recalled Fedde on Friday and had him fly to Milwaukee to rejoin the club, but he never pitched and was sent out Sunday to be examined by a doctor. An MRI came back showing the flexor mass strain but no problems in his elbow, which required Tommy John surgery days before he was drafted in 2014.
“He didn’t feel any unusual soreness, or anything like that,” Rizzo said. “The good thing is, the MRI came back clean. The elbow looks really good. And the flexor mass strain is farthest away from the elbow as could be possible. It’s more in the middle of the belly of the flexor mass. Those are all good things. We’re really pleased with the way the MRI came back.”
Flexor strains can vary widely in significance and location. Stephen Strasburg, for example, had his 2016 season cut short by a flexor mass strain, but that injury was at the far end of the area, near his elbow. Fedde’s injury, according to Rizzo, is lower in his forearm and thus not as much of a concern.
Still, some in the Nationals organization would have liked the 24-year-old to have spoken up about his diminished velocity instead of trying to pitch through it.
“If they’re not feeling right, you want them to say something about it,” manager Dusty Baker said. “We had to look at the signs on the board there. I asked him: ‘How come you didn’t say something?’ He said we had a doubleheader, he knew we were short of pitching. That was a valiant team effort, but I wish he had let us know, because we would’ve tried to do something different.”
Fedde’s third professional season thus comes to an abrupt end. He totaled only 105 2/3 innings between the majors and minors - failing to reach last year’s total of 121 - but he wound up appearing in more games - 32 to 23 - because of the two months he spent in the bullpen in the minors.
Fedde’s final 2017 numbers: a 3.04 ERA and 1.118 WHIP in 17 games with Double-A Harrisburg, a 4.76 ERA and 1.235 WHIP in 12 games at Triple-A and a 9.39 ERA and 2.152 WHIP in three big league starts. There was some thought he would be considered for a postseason roster spot, most likely in the bullpen, but that won’t happen now.
Rizzo defended the organization’s decision to have Fedde pitch as a reliever for part of the summer, saying it will pay off in the long run.
“I think it was beneficial to him,” the GM said. “Because he tasted the big leagues, tasted Triple-A for the first time. As we controlled his innings, he got a taste of pitching out of the bullpen and then as a starter in the big leagues. I think it’s going to be beneficial for his developmental curve. I think it’s really going to give him a giant step forward coming into spring training next year.”
With Joe Ross aiming for a July 2018 return from his Tommy John surgery, the Nationals will go into the offseason with no proven No. 5 starter on the big league roster. Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark are all under club control for 2018, but Edwin Jackson will be a free agent.
The Nationals still expect Fedde to be in the mix next spring.
“He’s a guy we’re going to be counting on in the rotation for next year and beyond,” Rizzo said. “He’s part of the next wave of guys that we’re going to be counting on.”