If these final games of the 2018 season - one that officially became about something other than trying to reach the playoffs on Saturday - are about giving young players some final opportunities to stake their claim for key spots in 2019, Erick Fedde’s start today carried some real significance.
Fedde, the 2014 first-round pick whose path has been slowed by arm injuries, has shown glimpses of his potential in his 12 previous big league starts, but he has yet to show he can put it all together and sustain success through a full start of six or more innings.
“There are times when I’m like: ‘I can pitch at this level, I can be successful and I think I can dominate,’” the rookie said. “And then there are times that are like: ‘What are you doing out there?’ But I think that comes with the learning curve, and I just need to make sure that isn’t a very long learning curve.”
After today’s rain-soaked showing against the Mets, he still has some work to do to make it all the way around that very important turn.
Fedde lasted only 3 1/3 innings and racked up 80 pitches before getting pulled by manager Davey Martinez during what became an 8-6 victory for the Mets before a fraction of the announced crowd of 34,218. Those spectators who remained sat through a 25-minute rain delay and then 4 hours, 14 minutes of hard-to-watch September baseball as the Nationals play out the string.
“Today was a tough game to mentally get into, with the rain delay, and it was pretty cold for the first time in a long time,” shortstop Trea Turner said. “It wasn’t fun times, but I felt like we battled.”
Fedde was charged with only three of the runs, but he left his bullpen facing a mess. And he again was plagued by the most disturbing of his tendencies this season: an exceptionally high pitch count.
Though the Mets had pushed only one run across the plate through their first three innings, Fedde had already thrown 63 pitches, the product of three walks and an inability to put away hitters with two strikes. So only three batters into the fourth, he was up to 80, and Martinez decided that was enough.
If it was a rare blip, it would be one thing. But it’s not. Fedde has now made nine healthy starts this season - exclude his July 4 outing against the Red Sox, when he was pulled after one inning with a sore shoulder - and he has averaged 5.04 innings and 95.1 pitches. That simply isn’t going to get the job done at this level.
“Working ahead in counts, pitch efficiency, he’s got to get better at that,” Martinez said. “He tends to, a lot of times, get ahead of hitters and he just can’t put them away. Then next thing you know, he’s going 2-2, 3-2. So we just have to find ways to get him to put hitters away. Whether he’s nitpicking after two strikes, he has to be able to finish things off.”
The Nationals bullpen didn’t help soften the blow of Fedde’s early departure. Wander Suero allowed four runs over 1 1/3 painful innings. Sammy Solís surrendered a run of his own after that, allowing New York to turn a 3-1 deficit in the fourth into an 8-3 lead by the sixth.
To their credit, the Nats didn’t give up. As they so often do, they mounted a late rally to keep the fate of the game in the balance. Victor Robles’ two-run triple and Turner’s subsequent RBI double cut the deficit to 8-6 in the bottom of the eighth and brought the tying run to the plate.
But despite plate appearances by three of their best hitters (Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Juan Soto) the Nationals could not produce the final hit needed to tie the game late, and thus dropped another close one that dropped them back to the .500 mark with only six games to play this season.
“Obviously we didn’t come out on top,” Turner said. “But if we just continue to don’t give in, don’t give up, that’s fine with me. That’s what I’m trying to personally do, and I think that’s what we should do as a team.”