It hasn't been easy going for Erick Fedde over the last month. Almost a month ago, he was placed on the COVID-19 injured list after testing positive for the coronavirus in Chicago. That was just three days after he turned in one of the best performances of his career in Arizona.
A little over three weeks after landing on the IL, he was reinstated after quarantining in Chicago and building his arm strength back up. That roller coaster stretch would be enough to throw any pitcher out of whack.
But don't tell Fedde that, as he pitched the latest gem from a Nationals starter by extending his scoreless innings streak to 20 frames, then watched his catcher hit the walk-off RBI single in a 1-0 win over the Mets.
The 20 straight scoreless innings for Fedde is now the longest streak by a Nationals pitcher this season, surpassing Max Scherzer's 19 consecutive scoreless innings from April 11-27, leaving him as confident as ever.
"I think confidence is key coming into every start, so probably starting with that," Fedde said in a postgame Zoom call with reporters. "But it's a lot easier to be confident, move well and have fun when things are going your way. But every time I step out there, I have to tell myself I belong here, I need to pitch with aggression and think I'm better than whoever steps in that box."
Fedde was better than whoever stepped in the box all night by relying heavily on his off-speed stuff to confuse Mets hitters. He was particularly fond of his sinker, which he threw 50 percent of the time with it averaging 93.6 mph and topping out at 95.7 mph. He also got a handful of his six strikeouts with his curveball and cutter, the latter of which he's formed into a real weapon in his arsenal.
The 28-year-old completed seven scoreless innings of two-hit ball while walking four (one intentionally) and striking out six on 100 pitches, 61 of them strikes. It was a fantastic outing that unfortunately ended in a no-decision for the right-hander, but did end in a curly W for the team in the first base dugout.
"He's got some confidence right now, he really does," manager Davey Martinez said of his starter. "He's throwing the ball well. He's throwing all of his pitches really well, locating really well. A lot of times, if you notice, he's going 0-2, 1-2 and he's trying to make that really nasty pitch. All he's gotta do is throw the ball the way he's throwing when he's 0-2 and he's going to get outs. But like I said, what a job he did today to keep us in that game. He was awesome, he really was. If we can continue to get starts from him like that every five days, we're gonna be in good shape."
That left Fedde feeling even more confident than when he started as he exited the game after throwing a scoreless seventh inning.
"Ecstatic giving the team the chance to win," Fedde said. "Any time I can put up zeros across the board, I'm going to be really happy. Just one of those games where I think I had a ton of help, too. Yan (Gomes) was phenomenal throwing guys out, Trea (Turner) made a couple of nice plays and it just felt like ... and plus we're playing the first-place Mets. That's just one of those ones that we all know we need to win these games."
Fedde received some help from his batterymate before he played the role of hero later in the game the few times he did put a runner on base. Yan Gomes threw out leadoff baserunners Mason Williams in the second inning and Luis Guillorme in the fifth trying to steal second. Gomes ended the night with a major league-best 14 runners caught stealing, while would-be basestealers are now 19-for-33 against him this season.
Then Gomes would step to the plate in the ninth with runners on the corners and sent the crowd of 26,246 at Nationals Park into a frenzy with a walk-off RBI single. Facing Mets closer Edwin DÃaz, Juan Soto led off with an eight-pitch walk and then advanced to third on Ryan Zimmerman's slap single to right field. Then, on the fifth pitch of his at-bat, Gomes sent a 99 mph fastball down the left field line to score Soto and earn himself a Gatorade shower moments after being mobbed by his teammates in the infield.
"Praise the Lord, that's what I thinking," Gomes said of his emotions as he saw the ball land in the left field grass. "Coming up against a guy like that, you're really just trying to get something up, out over (the plate) or just something where you're not trying to do too much. That guy can get you to look kinda silly at the plate. But I was starting to see his fastball pretty decent. Took a couple of pitches, which usually when that happening, maybe I got his timing down or at least I got more comfortable. After that, the ball kinda sailed back up the middle and I got a good piece of the bat on it."
Before the festivities, however, the Nationals offense couldn't give Fedde any run support early on against Mets starter Joey Lucchesi, who hasn't gone too deep into games this season, but has pitched to the tune of a 1.56 ERA over his last four starts. The Nats had three hits and one walk off the left-hander after the first two times through the order.
But they still had their chances. Their best opportunity to score early came in the third inning, when Turner stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and only one out. You would have thought the Nationals possibly exorcised their bases-loaded demons with Gomes' grand slam Tuesday night. But they reared their ugly heads again tonight, as Turner grounded into a 5-3 double play, the first of three for the Nationals offense tonight.
That left the Nationals collectively 10-for-64 (.156) with the bases loaded this season. The only team in baseball with a worse average: the Mets, who are 7-for-49 (.143).
Another scoring chance presented itself in the sixth inning, with Lucchesi starting to labor through the end of his outing. This was the first time he had faced a lineup for a third time this season. And after a Turner single and Soto walk, Mets manager Luis Rojas went to the bullpen.
With two on and one out for Zimmerman facing Miguel Castro, the first baseman grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to keep the game scoreless going into the seventh.
But the offensive woes wouldn't matter too much because the Mets offense was having just as difficult of a night against the Nationals pitching. After Fedde exited the game, Kyle Finnegan recorded a 1-2-3 eighth inning on 11 pitches and Brad Hand did the same on six pitches in the ninth.
Starlin Castro, reinstated from the restricted list this afternoon after time away to take care of a family matter, did make a pinch-hit appearance in the eighth inning, but struck out on five pitches. Martinez said before the game Castro was available off the bench and will play in tomorrow's doubleheader if the manager thought his third baseman was well enough mentally.
All in all, it was an exciting night at the ballpark to kick off an important series for the Nationals, as they try to measure their weight against the division leaders. This was their third victory by a score of 1-0 this season, second in walk-off fashion. They have now won five straight and seven of nine games to improve to 31-35 on the season. They are six games back of the Mets, with three more chances to gain even more ground over the next two days.
But Martinez, per usual, is still taking it one game at a time.
"Everyone's excited right now," the skipper said. "We're playing good baseball, we really are. We're playing really good. Like I said, guys are coming out of the bullpen throwing strikes. Our starting pitching, what an unbelievable job Fedde did for us today. We're playing good defense. So we just gotta keep it going. Like I told the boys, 'Hey, one day at a time. Let's go 1-0 every day and we'll be where we need to be.' That's the beauty of this game. When you play 162 games, you're gonna win some games like this, you're gonna lose some games. But it feels really good to come out on top after the way we played tonight."
Gomes also mentioned that playing good baseball has created even more positive vibes throughout the Nationals clubhouse.
"Right now, it's just we're playing good baseball, so the vibe is awesome," Gomes said. "Obviously. a walk-off win, you're still coming in really feeling it, the energy is really high. I think right now it's just wins are coming, wins are piling on and we know the series that we got coming up and it's just very good vibes right now."
Walk-off or not, the Nationals will take victories in bunches however they come nowadays.
"A win is a win is a win is a win," said Gomes. "Put that on a T-shirt."