Nats not afraid to increase Fedde’s workload in new role

LOS ANGELES - Right-hander Erick Fedde is adjusting to his new role with the Nationals after being a starter for most of his first four-plus seasons in pro ball.

Fedde, 26, started 67 of the 85 appearances he has made with the Nats in their minor league system since 2015. The 2014 first-round selection from Nevada-Las Vegas rehabbed from Tommy John surgery to get back to a regular starting role in 2016.

After building through the minors, Fedde made three starts for the Nats in 2017, and then 11 starts with the big club in 2018. As he gained experience and learned to trust his pitches, his WHIP dropped from 2.15 to 1.53 to 1.20. He was able to tighten up his command.

Fedde-Red-Day-sidebar.jpgHis job has changed as this new season got rolling. With the bullpen struggling, Fedde was summoned to D.C. in April as a reliever. For the first time in his big league career, Fedde was coming into games in relief of other pitchers.

In his season debut on April 28, Fedde saved the day after Jeremy Hellickson struggled and watched the Padres build a 6-0 lead.

Fedde tossed four shutout innings, scattering two hits, walking one and striking out three batters. The Nats came back and won 7-6 on an 11th-inning walk-off homer from Matt Adams. Fedde was pumped for the opportunity and relied on those 14 games of recent big league experience to keep him calm and focused on efficiency.

“It was definitely heart-racing, heart-pumping,” Fedde said. “I came out of there able to put up zeros and for the team to come back made the day so much better. For me, it felt like a sigh of relief just to come up there and throw well. I was sent down the next day, but it was just one of those things. I had a good (appearance) and I proved that I’m in a good place and I can be successful up here. It was just a great day.”

Fedde went back to Double-A after the game, but then got recalled in early May. There were questions during that time as to what his role would be this season: Spot starter? Long man? Specialist? Fedde embraced the role of jack-of-all-trades out of the ‘pen. He recognized that in-game preparations are different from what he was used to with the usual five days of rest he would get between games as a starter.

“Just adjusting to staying locked in every day,” Fedde said. “I’m learning now to just start moving around in the early innings and being ready. I know the team has the idea of using me as the Swiss Army Knife if they need long innings or just one.”

On May 8 in Milwaukee, Fedde threw another scoreless frame, but it was not easy. He allowed one hit with two walks and recorded a strikeout. This time, he had to work out of a major jam of his own doing.

With the bases loaded and one out, Fedde struck out the Brewers’ Travis Shaw on a 94.4 mph sinker. He then pressured Manny Piña with four consecutive sinkers into a forceout to third baseman Anthony Rendon to end the inning. Fedde was much more aggressive this time around, not trying to lull hitters to sleep or hold back his best stuff for later in the game. He went at them with the kitchen sink.

“The mentality is stay on my work every day so that I’m ready to roll,” Fedde said. “Coming out and just attacking guys and knowing that I might only see a couple hitters. So give them everything I got.”

Fedde said one of his biggest goals this offseason was to put on weight and try to maintain that body weight for the entire season. He added 10 lbs. and was listed as 6-foot-4 and 195 lbs. His weight is something he must check on multiple times during the week. While at UNLV, Fedde was listed at 180 lbs. He told me that when he started high school he weighed 100 lbs. When he started college, he was at 150 lbs. because he played a lot of soccer, too.

“It’s just a constant battle for myself,” Fedde said. “I know some people wish they had that problem. I have to weigh myself every other day to make sure I’m not falling too much. Usually, during the season, people lose some weight, but I got to make sure I’m not that guy.”

Fedde is making sure to eat at regular times each day and not skip meals. His baseball schedule has made that difficult at times. In years past, his day would start in the early afternoon and would push all the way through late night games, and he wouldn’t get to sleep until early morning.

“It’s more just about being conscious the last time I (ate),” Fedde said. “Because my biggest issue is when we have the late games, I’m the guy that will sleep in until noon. If I go to bed at 2 a.m., then I am missing a large portion. So I am making sure I set my alarm early, get up and have a breakfast, and then if I go back to bed, then so be it. Making sure I don’t miss meals is probably the biggest (adjustment) for me.”

Fedde has also molded himself into a much more versatile hurler. When he arrived with the Nats, he had a potent fastball and slider. He has since worked to gain confidence in his curveball and changeup, and he’s begun to employ them regularly.

He can throw the cutter, too, but Nationals pitching coach Paul Menhart said he doesn’t want Fedde using it in his new role as a reliever.

“I came into pro ball legitimately a two-pitch pitcher,” Fedde said. “My cutter and my changeup have been something that have really developed. Talking with guys, I just want to not lose that as a reliever, not go back to a two-pitch guy, and realize that everybody might have a different weakness. If I have four pitches, that is good and make guys respect four pitches when they come in to face me.”

Menhart said the Nats will build that bullpen endurance in Fedde by starting to use him multiple times in this new reliever role. That plan began Friday night.

“We are going to take care of him early and overuse him so he can get used to the role,” Menhart said. “So that means he’s going to have to do his part in preparation off the field: eating right, sleeping right, working out properly, arm care and total body care.”

Nationals manager Davey Martinez seconded that plan for Fedde following Friday’s 5-0 loss to the Dodgers. Fedde fired a scoreless inning, working around a two-out walk. Martinez said the Nationals are going to increase the frequency of Fedde’s appearances.

“It’s good to see, especially Fedde sitting all game, coming in the eighth inning like that,” Martinez said. “For a guy that hasn’t done that before to come in and throw strikes, we really like it. We’re trying to get him out there every other day. He came out and pitched well and said he felt really good. So we’ll see how he feels tomorrow.”

Through all of Fedde’s work, Menhart has been there as coach and mentor.

The Nationals’ former minor league pitching coordinator has been with Fedde since his arrival from college in 2014, through the rigors of Tommy John recovery and now to building a confident, four-pitch power pitcher.

“He’s always been kind of the face that’s always been there throughout my whole career. There’s a sense of comfortability,” Fedde said of Menhart. “I feel like he’s someone that from the long amount of time (working together) that he knows the pitcher that I am and he can get me back to (correct form).”

“I do know him very well,” Menhart said. “I’ve seen him more than probably every other pitcher in the organization besides (Matt) Grace because he’s been with the organization a lot longer.”

Menhart acknowledged that it’s not easy to move from starter to reliever. He remembers having to do it himself when he arrived in the majors with the Blue Jays in 1995. Menhart said Fedde must learn that he cannot fully exert himself when warming in the bullpen because he might not go into the game at that moment, and may have to warm up again later in the game. That is a major shift from what a starter must do to get ready.

“It’s quite a transition, but he’s so athletic and he’s so smart,” Menhart said. “He’s got great guys down in the bullpen that can teach him how to do things so he doesn’t overexert himself and recognize game situations and how he might be used. Always remember that he’s got eight more (warm-up pitches) on the game mound.”

On his first road trip in his new job as pitching coach with the Nats, Menhart noticed something that stood out from Fedde’s Wednesday appearance against the Brewers.

“He’s seen me at my best,” Fedde said. “He’s seen me at my worst. Like (Thursday afternoon), even in catch he made mention of, ‘Hey, one of your pitches the other day, you were tipping it.’ Right away, I knew what it was. It’s nice to know a guy knows you. He knows how to get you back to your best.

“You are out there in the game and the game is in full fledge, the adrenaline rush, and just to have someone come around and give you a quick little check and make sure, ‘Hey, this looks like this,’ and, ‘We know you’re better than that and get back to (being) you.’ “

“He definitely slowed down on a particular off-speed pitch or two, yes,” Menhart said. “That’s something he can fix.”

And as far as the focus on mechanics, Menhart works with Fedde to make it all look the same to the hitter.

“The changeup is the pitch we are trying to get more consistent out of the same arm slot,” Menhart said. “That’s the big thing with him, is trying to get all of his pitches in a nice, comfortable three-quarter slot that is the best for him.”

With the experiences of 2017 and 2018 with the Nats in his back pocket, the good and the bad, coupled with renewed confidence in four pitches instead of just two, Fedde is ready for the challenge presented with his new role in the bullpen.

But Menhart noted that this is Fedde’s job. He’s being paid to do this, so he must prepare each day for this responsibility. And it’s not just pitching well in the game. Fedde must study opposing hitters, get ready to pitch and most importantly, take care of his body so he is as strong as he can be for the rigors of bullpen duty.

“He’s got to take care of himself in between outings on a daily basis,” Menhart said. “Make sure he’s preparing himself for the grind of being a reliever, because your availability is (every day).”

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