With only three weeks of summer training and only a few intrasquad or exhibition games to make evaluations, the Nationals are probably going to have to make their choice for No. 5 starter more off old information than anything they see right now.
Still, Erick Fedde’s chances for winning the job could only have improved Wednesday night, given the right-hander’s performance against teammates in an intrasquad game.
Starting for the visiting red team opposite Stephen Strasburg and the white team, Fedde cruised through four scoreless innings with ease. He retired the first seven batters he faced and departed having surrendered only two singles and a walk.
Most of the Nationals’ veteran hitters faced Strasburg, so Fedde’s competition wasn’t as stiff. But he still got a chance to face Michael A. Taylor, Carter Kieboom, Yan Gomes and other projected members of the big league club, and he mowed through them with little trouble.
Back when spring training was shut down four months ago, Fedde looked to be the odd man out in a three-way competition for two spots on the opening day roster: one starter, one long reliever. But after Joe Ross opted out of the season, Fedde reported to D.C. for summer training knowing he and Austin Voth were all but guaranteed to make the expanded, 30-man roster that will open this unusual season.
It’s just a matter of which one is selected to be the fifth starter and which one pitches out of the bullpen. Voth, for what it’s worth, allowed two runs over three innings in his intrasquad appearance Monday evening.
There’s a chance the Nationals could just open the season with both pitchers in the bullpen for at least a few days. The schedule leaves them in a position where they won’t need a fifth starter until the sixth game of the season: July 29 at Toronto.
In a typical year, an open competition for a rotation spot would play out over six weeks of spring training, with each Grapefruit League outing carrying some weight as the coaching and front office staffs tried to make a decision.
This time around, there are few game opportunities to base decisions on. That could add some pressure to each outing, with little margin for error.
“I just think you’ve got to take these very seriously, as you would towards the end of spring training,” Fedde said. “Just viewing them as tune-ups. I tried to do as much work as I could during the break, so I’m viewing these as just the touch-ups to get ready to go into the season.”
Fedde’s 51-pitch start Wednesday night may have helped his cause. Strasburg doesn’t need any help to make the roster, but the veteran right-hander looked like he was in prime midseason form during his four scoreless innings of work.
Facing more lineup regulars, including Trea Turner, Adam Eaton, Starlin Castro and Eric Thames, Strasburg gave up three hits (two of them in his final inning) and at one point struck out five of six batters. He worked himself up to 61 pitches, positioning himself to approach 75 in his final tune-up (Monday against the Orioles) before he faces the Yankees in his season debut.