Why Fedde was pulled after only 61 pitches

NEW YORK - Erick Fedde intended to pitch as long as he could Tuesday night, but the right-hander knew in his head how many innings he realistically could expect from himself when he took the mound to make his first big league start of 2019.

“I honestly was really hoping for five,” he said. “I think in the last month or so I’ve only gone three. But I was really glad to get us through five and give the guys in the ‘pen a chance to finish the game off.”

The guys in the ‘pen, of course, didn’t finish it off. After Fedde allowed one run in five innings, the Nationals bullpen combined to allow five runs in four innings, dealing the club an agonizing, 6-5 loss to the Mets.

Fedde-Fires-Gray-sidebar.jpgGiven the manner in which Fedde cruised through his five innings on only 61 pitches, it was only natural to question if he could’ve kept going. The simple answer: He couldn’t.

“That was his limit,” manager Davey Martinez said. “We talked to him when he came out (after the fifth) and he said he was tired. We figured around 70-80 pitches would be his max.”

Under different circumstances, Fedde would have been starting in the minors in the weeks leading up to this outing. But given the Nationals’ desperate need for quality arms in the majors’ worst bullpen, they’ve used the right-hander in relief for the better part of the last month. He hadn’t thrown more than 49 pitches since April 23 at Double-A Harrisburg.

So the 61-pitch outing was about as much as was possible on this night. It helped that Fedde was efficient enough to make it through five frames with that total, rather than three or four.

“That’s a pretty good number for five innings,” he said. “So I’m happy there.”

There was plenty for Fedde and the Nationals to be happy about from this start. Though he put seven batters on base, he used his sinker to induce mostly weak contact and relied on his defense to make plays behind him. That group performed exceptionally well, turning two inning-ending double plays to allow Fedde to escape unscathed.

“I was just able to get a lot of ground balls with it,” he said of the sinker. “I got two huge double plays to get me out of tough innings. Let my defense work, and they really helped me out today.”

“He looked really good,” Martinez said. “He threw ground balls, ground balls. If he keeps pitching like that, we’re going to be in good shape. We’ve got to build him back up, obviously. But he did really well.”

Fedde’s performance certainly warranted another opportunity to start. He’s currently filling Aníbal Sánchez’s spot in the rotation, and that spot comes up again Sunday against the Marlins.

Sánchez is eligible to come off the 10-day injured list on May 27, but he’s scheduled to throw a simulated game Friday. If that goes well, he’d be ready to start a big league game five days later. That would seemingly put him in position to take over Jeremy Hellickson’s rotation spot, with the veteran right-hander now also on the injured list with a strained shoulder.

Fedde’s not worried about any of those permutations at this point. He just hopes to build off this start and continue the positive momentum he has established in the last month.

“Every time I go out there, I feel like I have things to prove,” said the 26-year-old, who now sports a 2.87 ERA over 15 2/3 big league innings this season. “Whether it be the rotation or the ‘pen, I’m just trying to throw well and try to force myself to keep a spot up here.”

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