Davey Martinez had one simple piece of advice this morning for Erick Fedde, who took the mound in Arizona knowing Stephen Strasburg had just made a rehab start for Triple-A Rochester and might be deemed ready to take back his spot in the Nationals rotation.
“Make my decision tough,” the Nats manager said during his pregame Zoom session with reporters. “That’s what I want him to go out there and do.”
It would be tough for Fedde to have made the decision any tougher on Martinez, general manager Mike Rizzo and the rest of the Nationals brass who watched the right-hander put together the most dominant start of his enigmatic career.
And thanks to an eighth-inning rally ignited by Yadiel Hernandez’s pinch-hit homer into the left field bullpen, the Nats rewarded Fedde for his efforts, pulling off a 3-0 victory over the Diamondbacks to capture the weekend series.
“I think that’s probably the best I’ve seen him throw,” Martinez said afterward of Fedde’s scoreless seven-inning performance.
Fedde was fantastic, facing the minimum over his final four frames, but departed with the game still scoreless because his teammates hadn’t been able to muster anything more than three singles (two of which never left the infield) and two walks to that point against the Arizona pitching staff.
No worries, because Hernandez (pinch-hitting for Fedde) led off the top of the eighth by driving a low sinker from reliever Stefan Crichton down the left field line and into the home bullpen for the first run of the afternoon and the first pinch-hit homer of the 33-year-old rookie’s career.
“Every time I go up there to hit, I’m just trying to make real good contact,” Hernandez said via interpreter Octavio Martinez. “I’m thinking up the middle every time. That way, if I’m a little behind, I can drive it the other way. Or if I’m ahead of the pitch, I can pull it a little bit.”
After starting in right field while Juan Soto was on the injured list, Hernandez is now trying to settle into a bench role for the first time in his professional life. It’s been a learning process, but he’s starting to figure it out. He’s now 5-for-14 with two doubles and a homer as a pinch-hitter in the big leagues.
“To be honest, he didn’t impress me with the home run, at all,” center fielder Victor Robles said, also with Martinez interpreting. “I’ve seen it a lot from him before, so it’s expected. What I would say what impressed me was the actual pitch he did it on. I think it was a real tough pitch to hit, and he did a great job of making hard contact. I was definitely impressed by that.”
Perhaps bolstered by Hernandez’s homer, Robles and Trea Turner followed with back-to-back doubles. And when Kyle Schwarber lined a single to center to score Ryan Zimmerman later in the inning, they had themselves a three-run rally, providing their bullpen with some cushion.
Daniel Hudson and Brad Hand didn’t need it. Hudson had little trouble in the eighth and Hand retired the side in the ninth for his first save since a trio of ragged outings last week, officially securing the win for Fedde on a day when he earned it.
“He threw a tremendous game,” Robles said. “And, honestly, every inning we tried to score for him, as well as our other starters. Fortunately, thank god we came through for him, because he definitely deserved the win.”
Taking the mound about 90 minutes after Strasburg finished his 75-pitch, scoreless rehab start in Trenton, N.J., Fedde tried to keep his focus on the task at hand and not the what-if dilemma lingering over his future. And he did just that, putting a few runners on base but never allowing any to advance far.
Fedde pitched around a one-out single in the first, a leadoff double in the second, and a walk and a single in the third. The last of those jams led to the right-hander’s best pitching sequence of the afternoon, in which he started off Diamondbacks cleanup hitter David Peralta with a changeup on the lower, outside corner and then finished him off with a 95 mph sinker in the exact same spot.
“That probably was my best pitch of the night,” Fedde said. “I saw a video in the dugout on the iPad of it. It couldn’t have been a better pitch. That was a good moment to use it.”
Most impressively, Fedde got better as his afternoon progressed. The Peralta strikeout started a streak of 10 consecutive batters retired, capped by another strikeout of Peralta on a curveball to end the sixth.
Davey Martinez let the 28-year-old take the mound for the seventh inning for only the third time in his career, and when he issued a leadoff walk to Stephen Vogt, it was fair to question if this was pushing it too far.
It wasn’t. Fedde immediately got Domingo Leyba to ground into a 4-6-3 double play, then got Nick Ahmed to ground to end a fabulous, 97-pitch start in which he recorded 12 outs on the ground.
“There was no hesitation for me to keep him in the game,” Martinez said. “You just watched the other team’s swings today, and he was really throwing the ball well.”
Fedde now sports a 3-4 record and 4.35 ERA. He has looked very good in four of his eight starts, not so good in the other four. He wasn’t supposed to be in the opening day rotation, but Jon Lester’s time on the COVID-19 IL and then Strasburg’s time on the 10-day IL created an opportunity for the right-hander.
Now, with Lester back and Strasburg close to returning himself, Fedde faces an uncertain week ahead. He doesn’t know what will happen to him, but he does know he did everything he could today to do just as his manager instructed and make the decision tough on him.
“I see Stras in the clubhouse; I know he’s getting close,” Fedde said. “I don’t know, I’ve been in this spot so often, it’s almost something I don’t think about anymore. Just because I’ve learned the more you think about it, it still doesn’t matter at all. My job is to go out there and pitch well. And today, I hope I added something to my resume on why I should still be in the rotation.”