The Nationals continue to get excellent starting pitching. But as has too often been the case, great starting pitching doesn’t count for much without competent offense and defense.
So even though Erick Fedde continued the rotation’s strong run this afternoon over 5 2/3 impressive innings, the Nationals were left to stew over a 3-1 loss to the Padres because they managed only seven hits against Tyson Ross and San Diego’s bullpen and also saw the decisive two runs score on a drive to deep right field that caromed off Bryce Harper’s glove.
Fedde, in his first major league start of the season, was charged with three earned runs over those 5 2/3 innings and thus extended the streak of Nationals starters allowing three or fewer earned runs to 23 consecutive games, longest in the majors in two years.
The rookie right-hander, though, wound up taking a hard-luck loss because his teammates couldn’t provide much of any support. A last-gasp attempt to rally in the ninth against closer Brad Hand fell short when Michael A. Taylor struck out on three pitches and Spencer Kieboom grounded into a double play to strand the tying runners on base.
Fedde’s arrival last summer drew plenty of attention, but his performance during three starts could only be described as underwhelming. The fact he was dealing with a flexor strain in his forearm didn’t help, leaving his fastball down into the low-90s and even the high-80s before the club decided to shut him down for the final month of the season.
The 25-year-old reported to spring training healthy, though, and the difference was noticeable in his starts in Florida. And the guy who carved up the Padres lineup for four innings today certainly looked a world apart from the one who labored last season, offering up an encouraging glimpse of the future.
With a fastball that consistently registered between 94-96 mph, plus an assortment of effective sliders and changeups, Fedde struck out six batters and put up four zeroes to begin his afternoon. And when the Padres finally did get to him, it was only by the slimmest of margins.
Manuel Margot’s two-out single to right in the fifth brought home Freddy Galvis, but only a tick ahead of Harper’s throw to the plate, leaving the Nationals in a 1-0 hole.
One inning later, Fedde was on the verge of escaping a two-on, two-out jam when Harper appeared to have tracked down Christian Villanueva’s drive to the warning track. But with the fence looming a few feet away, Harper couldn’t finish the play. The ball caromed off his glove and into the corner, with two runs scoring on what initially was ruled a two-base error.
Later in the game, the official scorer changed the call to a double, adding two more earned runs to Fedde’s pitching line.
Either way, the play left the Nationals trailing 3-0, and that felt like an even larger deficit on a day when they could barely muster any offense against Ross. The San Diego right-hander carried a shutout into the seventh, at which point Matt Adams finally broke through and lofted a ball into the right field bullpen for his 11th homer of the season.
Otherwise, the Nats had no answer for Ross’ repertoire, which didn’t light up the radar gun but featured tons of movement.