The headlines Wednesday at Nationals Park focused on what happened after the home team’s 3-0 loss to the Red Sox, when players spent 15 minutes airing their grievances to each other and deciding it’s time to quit assuming they’re going to coast to another division title and start actually scratching and clawing to try to get back to the postseason.
Lost in the shuffle were some important details and reactions to the events that actually took place on the field during that 3-0 loss, the club’s 17th in its last 22 games.
So let’s go back and make sure we cover all the still-lingering storylines from the game before we move on to whatever comes next for this sub-.500 team. ...
ERICK FEDDE’S SHOULDER
Fedde left plenty of folks concerned when he departed the game only one batter into the second inning, having thrown a total of only 25 pitches. The problem: a tight shoulder that got worse when he took the mound in the top of the second.
“Just having trouble getting loose all game, but felt fine,” he said. “Expecting it to go away. And then I just sat down there for the five minutes or whatever (while the Nationals batted in the bottom of the first) and the re-start was just ... everything. I think my shoulder just said: ‘No more.’”
If that sounds like cause for alarm, you’re not alone. But Fedde emerged from the afternoon encouraged after being told the results of an MRI on his shoulder.
“I wasn’t happy with the way I felt, but we just looked at the MRI, and they said no structural damage, no tears,” he said. “It’s just a pretty inflamed shoulder, and it’s going to be a couple days off and we’ll go from there. Honestly, the news I got is pretty good.”
Fedde said he has dealt with shoulder tightness before in his pitching career, dating all the way back to high school. It’s never caused any major problems. His one injury of real consequence was a torn elbow ligament in college, which required Tommy John surgery only days before the Nationals drafted him in 2014.
Fedde did throw a career-high 115 pitches in five innings his previous start in Philadelphia, but he said he came out of that appearance with no problems and was adamant the heavy workload had no negative effect on his health in this start.
“No, typical soreness (since the Philadelphia game),” he said. “Last outing was what it was. I didn’t ... still five innings. I don’t think that has anything to do with it.”
The Nationals have a couple of days to let Fedde heal and decide how to proceed. His next scheduled start is Monday in Pittsburgh. If he can’t go, the team could recall right-hander Jefry Rodriguez from Triple-A Syracuse to take his spot. If Fedde needs to miss significant time, the Nats believe they’ll be getting Stephen Strasburg back from his shoulder injury right around the All-Star break.
THE DECISIVE TOP OF THE SEVENTH
Wednesday’s game was scoreless until the seventh, at which point things quickly devolved for the Nationals. Reliever Ryan Madson surrendered a leadoff double to Rafael Devers, then a single to Eduardo Nunez that left runners on the corners with nobody out.
Then came perhaps the most significant play of the game. Jackie Bradley Jr. lofted a flyball into shallow left field, in foul territory next to the short fence. Adam Eaton covered a lot of ground but was able to make a sliding catch on the warning track, hop to his feet and spin himself around so he could make the throw.
What happened then? Well, Eaton seemed to double-clutch for a moment, then after he noticed Devers tagging up from third and trying to score, he fired the ball toward the plate. The throw (from an unconventional angle, given where he was in foul territory at the time) skipped past both Pedro Severino and Madson (who was backing up the play, but not from particularly far behind his catcher) and bounced into the dugout. That allowed not only Devers to score but Nunez to advance to third.
Eaton offered up a detailed account of his thought process through the entire play. He said his thrown should have been to the foul side of the third base line instead of the fair side, giving Severino a better chance to make the catch and tag. And he said his initial hesitation was because he was thinking about the trailing runner instead of only the lead runner trying to score.
“To me, the score should’ve really dictated how I played it,” Eaton said. “I should’ve said ‘screw it’ to the guy at first and just thrown it home. But the cardinal rule in the outfield is you want to keep that guy at first base. With one out, you want to keep the double play in order. So it’s kind of a Catch-22. But with the score being what it was in late innings, I just need to throw it home right away.”
What Eaton didn’t consider was purposely letting the ball drop in foul territory to prevent the runners from tagging up in the first place. Manager Davey Martinez said at that point in the game, “we needed to get an out” and so Eaton made the right decision making the catch.
Eaton’s throw became an even bigger deal moments later when Madson bounced a 3-2 changeup to Andrew Benintendi, past Severino, to allow Nunez to score the second run of the inning. Severino took blame for not knocking that pitch down.
“It’s tough to say, but my legs don’t work in that moment,” the catcher said. “I tried to stop that ball, but it’s like nothing I can do. It was a tough moment for me right there.”
WHY ADAMS NEVER PINCH-HIT
Even though the Red Sox had a left-handed starter going, the Nationals activated Matt Adams off the disabled list before the game specifically to have him available off the bench later on to face a right-hander. And there were two tailor-made opportunities to use him in just that kind of situation, in both the seventh and ninth innings, but they never did.
With two outs and a runner on first in what was still a 2-0 game in the seventh, the .172-hitting Severino was allowed to bat for himself. He popped up on the first pitch to end the inning.
Why didn’t Martinez send Adams - or Juan Soto, who also was available on the bench, for that matter - up to hit for Severino? Because it turns out backup catcher Spencer Kieboom was unavailable, making it impossible to pull Severino from the game.
“If we would’ve had a backup catcher, which we don’t right now - Kieboom’s really sick - we probably would’ve pinch-hit earlier,” Martinez said. “But we had to keep Sevy in the game.”
The other opportunity came in the bottom of the ninth, with two on, two out and Wilmer Difo stepping to the plate as the potential tying run. With Adams in the on-deck circle to bat for Severino, though, Difo popped up to the catcher to end the game.
Martinez said he didn’t send Adams up earlier because of the strategy he assumed Boston manager Alex Cora was going to deploy.
“I would’ve probably used him for Difo, maybe, but I know what they were gonna do,” Martinez said. “They were gonna walk him to get to Sevy. We had nobody else.”