BALTIMORE – Four days ago, the Nationals pitching staff – specifically the rotation – was a mess. A series of unfortunate events left Davey Martinez scrambling to find somebody to start each night, then a bunch of guys to come out of the bullpen after said starter failed to complete even four innings. It was, to put it mildly, an unsustainable situation.
And then Josiah Gray tossed six scoreless innings Saturday against the Phillies, and Jackson Tetreault tossed seven innings without allowing an earned run Sunday against the Phillies and now here was Erick Fedde walking off the mound at the end of the sixth tonight at Camden Yards with nothing but zeroes on the board.
Just like that, the worst rotation in the majors had authored not only three straight quality starts, but three straight starts without allowing an earned run. And that allowed the back end of Martinez’s bullpen to come into this game fresh and finish off what Fedde started, completing a 3-0 victory over the Orioles to open this two-game portion of the Battle of the Beltways.
"That's pretty impressive," Martinez said. "After everything we've been through, we come out today and the pitchers throw a shutout."
Some opportunistic early offense staked the Nats to a two-run lead, and though they certainly would’ve liked to take advantage of more scoring opportunities to add to that lead, they ultimately didn’t need it. (Though they happily accepted Lane Thomas’ tack-on homer in the top of the ninth.)
For that, they can thank the quartet of Fedde, Kyle Finnegan, Carl Edwards Jr. and Tanner Rainey, which came together to author the team’s third shutout of the season, and the first in nearly a month.
"It's just nice to be rewarded for how Fedde started the game," Finnegan said. "Unbelievable job by him, and then the bullpen came in and did their job. We've been busting our butts all year long. To see our work pay off on the field in a shutout ... shutouts are great. It's a really tough league, and anytime you can put up a zero for nine innings, you should feel good about it."
The late-inning trio was particularly sharp. Finnegan, given the heart of Baltimore's lineup in the seventh, struck out three to erase Adley Rutschman’s two-out double, with a slider that reached 90-91 mph. Edwards bridged the gap in the eighth for his 17th scoreless appearance out of 20 overall since joining the club. And Rainey, who hadn’t pitched since Friday, closed out the ninth for his eighth save in 11 attempts.
"Giving these guys days off, it's really good," Martinez said. "But look, if we've got the lead, they know they've got to pitch."
A reconfigured lineup that had Juan Soto batting second and Luis García bumped up to the fifth spot took plenty of hacks early against Jordan Lyles, but that didn’t translate into much actual production.
César Hernández opened the game with a double off the wall in right-center, then nearly didn’t score until Nelson Cruz came through with a two-out RBI double down the left field line. Another leadoff double in the second, this time by Keibert Ruiz, set the table for the Nationals to load the bases with nobody out, but they nearly left them all stranded, bailed out only by a botched double play attempt from second baseman Rougned Odor that turned into a run-scoring error.
The Nats led 2-0, but it felt like they could’ve led by so much more. Fortunately, Fedde was up to the challenge and made that slim lead hold up.
The evening began in typical Fedde fashion. He didn’t give up much, but he required a boatload of pitches to do it: Through three scoreless innings, his pitch count was 51.
But what Fedde lacked in efficiency, he made up for in effectiveness. And he finished strong, retiring the final seven batters he faced to complete six scoreless frames on 97 pitches.
"Anytime I can take six scoreless, I'll sign up for that," he said. "I wish - I feel like I said the same thing last start - I could just stop wasting pitches. But I'll still take six, no matter what."
Given the state of the Nationals' rotation only a few days ago, everyone will take it. Even if it does put added pressure on Wednesday night's starter not to let his mates down.
"I said right when I came in today: I think (Patrick) Corbin's up next," Fedde said. "Don't mess it up, dude, 'cause we've got a good one going."