The result - a 3-1 loss to the Padres - was frustrating, no question. If the Nationals can take a step back and view today’s game with a wider lens, though, they’ll come away with a much more positive vibe.
No, they didn’t do nearly enough at the plate against Tyson Ross, Craig Stammen and Brad Hand, who combined to allow one run on seven hits. Yes, they could’ve played a crisper game in the field and prevented San Diego from scoring those runs.
But Erick Fedde looked like a quality big league pitcher. And the rookie right-hander felt like a quality big league pitcher. And that’s the most important takeaway from this one.
“It’s huge,” Fedde said after allowing three runs (two of them questionable) in 5 2/3 innings. “After this outing, I feel like I can definitely compete at this level. It was nice. Last year I didn’t have too many great outings. This one was big just in the sense of overall confidence.”
The few glimpses the Nationals got of Fedde last summer did not leave an especially encouraging taste in their mouths. Touted as the organization’s top pitching prospect, he was roughed up in three starts, allowing 34 runners to reach base in 15 1/3 innings with diminishing velocity that dropped into the high-80s by his final outing.
But after sitting out September with a flexor strain in his forearm, Fedde returned healthy this spring. And in today’s spot start - it was necessitated by Saturday’s doubleheader, making this the team’s sixth game in five days - he not only showed better velocity (mid-90s) but better command and better presence.
“He wasn’t afraid of anybody tonight,” manager Davey Martinez said. “He pounded the strike zone, had a good fastball, a good two-seamer. Changeup was good. Slider was good. He did well. He kept us in the ballgame.”
Fedde might have walked out of Nationals Park with a no-decision or even a win if not for a near-miss by Bryce Harper with two outs in the sixth. Harper was able to track down Christian Villanueva’s drive to the warning track but was unable to complete the catch, the ball caroming off his glove and into the corner for a two-run double.
“Definitely a tough play,” said Harper, who initially was charged with an error before the official scorer reversed the call. “Maybe a little bit quicker to it, I could’ve got to it. But nothing I can do.”
Statcast gave the play a 49 percent “catch probability” rating, essentially calling it a toss-up. Harper’s manager, who played 1,580 big league games in the outfield (735 of those in right field), understood the degree of difficulty involved.
“It’s finishing the play,” Martinez said. “He got there. Nobody realized, but that sun was tough. Just one of those plays. If he catches it, great play. He happened not to catch it. But he gave it his all. It just didn’t go our way.”
Harper’s near-miss turned a 1-0 Padres lead into a 3-0 Padres lead. The Nationals got only one of the runs back, on Matt Adams’ seventh-inning homer.
That left Fedde to suffer a hard-luck loss, but hardly a demoralizing loss. He’ll head back to Triple-A Syracuse and wait for his next opportunity, confident he’s ready for the assignment now.
“My stuff felt really good,” he said. “This was by far the most comfortable I’ve felt. It’s definitely the start I was aiming for, just not the finish.”