With his top two starting pitchers spending the beginning of spring training ramping up after injuries, Nationals manager Davey Martinez has chosen right-hander Erick Fedde to start Sunday’s Grapefruit League opener against the Cardinals in Jupiter, Fla.
“We want to get him out there,” Martinez said of Fedde this afternoon during his Zoom conference call with reporters. “He looks good. Built him up a little bit. So feel like he’ll be the guy.”
Fedde will be limited to 30 pitches, which means the Nationals are hoping to get two innings out of him in the outing at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium.
Right-hander Max Scherzer sprained his left ankle shortly before camp started and has just progressed to throwing from a mound. Righty Stephen Strasburg is recovering from carpal tunnel surgery that short-circuited his 2020 season, limiting him to just five innings over two starts. Right-hander Joe Ross, another veteran with eyes on a rotation spot, opted out of last season. All three of those hurlers will need to build up endurance and innings, and Martinez isn’t going to take a chance at pushing them too hard too early.
With Fedde battling Ross and righty Austin Voth for the fifth starter’s spot, Martinez wants to use the exhibition opener as a way to gauge Fedde’s progress.
“We got our young guys that are ready to go and healthy - Fedde, you’ll see Voth here soon,” Martinez said. “We’ll get those guys out there, followed by a lot of other young guys. We want to make sure that these guys - Stras and these guys - are built up and ready to go.”
Fedde was 2-4 with a 4.29 ERA and 1.371 WHIP in 11 games, including eight starts, last season. He went 1-1 with a 2.50 ERA in 18 innings over his last three appearances, with a pair of starts.
While Martinez finally named his starting pitcher for the first exhibition game, he was predictably coy when asked if he had settled on a starter for the April 1 opener against the Mets at Nationals Park.
“We’ll keep that in the circle right now,” he said with a laugh.
* The Nationals have spent considerable money in beefing up the back end of their bullpen in the offseason, and when they signed lefty Brad Hand to a one-year, $10.5 million deal late last month, it was assumed Martinez would mix and match between Hand and veteran righties Daniel Hudson and Will Harris, along with hard-throwing Tanner Rainey, to close out games.
But in discussing what he’s seen so far of Hand in the first 10 days of camp, Martinez hinted that he’s thinking of Hand as his ninth-inning guy.
“He says he’ll do whatever, but we know what he can do,” Martinez said of Hand. “He’s a back-end-of-the-bullpen guy. In a perfect world, he’ll be our closer and we’ll go from there. He’s all-in so far. It’s been good. I love talking to him - bright guy. He fits in well with our group.”
Hand led the majors in saves last season when he was a perfect 16-for-16 in save opportunities with the Indians, posting a 2.05 ERA and a 0.773 WHIP. Over the past four campaigns, the 30-year-old has converted 103 of 120 save opportunities.
But right now, he’s also the only left-hander guaranteed a spot on the opening day roster. If Hand is slotted as the closer, it might open up a spot for one of several other southpaws in camp, including Ben Braymer, Sam Clay or Seth Romero from the 40-man roster or non-roster invites T.J. McFarland or Luis Avilán.
So far, Hand has done nothing but impress his new manager - and make Martinez ponder the possibilities of a much deeper bullpen than he’s had in the past.
“He’s got no emotion. He is who he is,” Martinez said. “We got another guy like that, a couple of guys like that - one, Huddy, the other one being Will Harris. They’re very calm guys. Those guys, they know what their role is. They’re going to pitch in the back end of the bullpen. A lot of times, if these guys pitch two or three games in a row, you’ve got to give them a day to keep them fresh. These other guys, they understand that they have to step up on occasion and get chances to close some games as well. We’ll keep an eye on all those guys - the high-leverage guys. Rainey’s another guy I’d like to see pitch at the end of games. So we’ll see how they do.”
Hand is impressed with the late-inning depth the Nationals have amassed.
“It’s always good to have multiple guys that can pitch in any role. That’s important to be able to have guys that don’t have egos, that are willing to take the ball whatever situation it is,” Hand said. “Throughout the course of the year, there’s going to be stretches where guys are struggling, or there’s always going to be somebody else that’s going to need to pick up the slack and help each other out. It’s good to have a lot of guys down there that are able to get the job done because, throughout the course of the year, we’re gonna need every single one of them to be able to get to where we want to go.”
* Outfielder Gerardo Parra is recovering from right knee surgery performed several months ago.
“I had surgery almost three months, four months (ago) on my right knee,” Parra said during a Zoom session this afternoon.
Parra added that he’s begun baseball activities and has started running and is “70 percent, 80 percent” along in his recovery.
In camp as a non-roster invite on a minor league contract, Parra is hoping to secure a bench role with the club after slashing .267/.305/.384 with four homers and 13 RBIs in 47 games with Yomiuri of the Japan Central League last season.
Parra, 33, might be vying for the last bench spot on the roster, the chance to combine with Andrew Stevenson to back up the likely starting outfield of Kyle Schwarber in left, Victor Robles in center and Juan Soto in right.
“He’s a veteran guy. We still believe that he can play and help us win games,” Martinez said of Parra. “We’re trying to get him healthy right now. He’s about 75 percent. As soon as we can get him on the field and get him some games, we’re going to give him every opportunity to play. He was such an influence on our roster in 2019, but with that being said, the reason why he’s here is because we feel like his veteran presence, the way he goes about this business - he’s always pleasant to be around. But also, he can still play. He can help us out in the outfield, play some first base, pinch-hit. Hopefully we get him ready as soon as possible and we get him some games.”