There was a point, four or five years ago, when the Nationals could look into the future and imagine a rotation that included both Erick Fedde and Jesús Luzardo. And there probably was a point in more recent years when Luzardo (a third-round pick in 2016 who has since been traded to the Athletics and then the Marlins) looked to have a brighter future than Fedde (a first-round pick in 2014).
These things don’t always work out as everyone thinks they will, of course. Neither Fedde nor Luzardo has managed to prove he’s a consistently effective big league pitcher, despite moments that make you believe.
On this night at a mostly empty ballpark in Miami, though, one of the two stood tall. With 6 1/3 innings of one-run, 10-strikeout ball, Fedde authored one of the best starts of his career and watched as his teammates blasted Luzardo during a 5-1 victory.
It was the first time Fedde has reached double-digit strikeouts in his career, and he did it against an opponent he has thrived against the entire time. In five career starts against the Marlins, Fedde is now 3-0 with an 0.98 ERA, 1.012 WHIP and 30 strikeouts in 27 2/3 innings.
“I think with previous success there’s always confidence going into the next start,” the right-hander said in his postgame Zoom session with reporters. “And going into today, when you feel like you’ve had their number and you can pitch well, it makes everything a lot easier.”
Fedde was as sharp tonight as he’s been in any previous head-to-head matchup, carrying a shutout into the seventh and inducing 13 swing-and-misses, nine of them off his curveball alone thanks in part to a new grip he learned from reliever Sam Clay he felt made a big difference.
It was the kind of performance Fedde has occasionally put together, most notably in late May and early June when he strung together 20 consecutive scoreless innings. But it’s the kind of performance the Nationals desperately want to see on a more regular basis from the enigmatic 28-year-old, now in his seventh season in the organization.
“I want to say he has one inning where it gets away from him a little bit,” manager Davey Martinez said. “But he’s been pitching a lot better, he really has. Today, the breaking ball was a lot sharper than it ever has been. It was shorter. It was a late break. Tough to recognize. I could tell by the swings of the hitter. If he can do that consistently and keep it that way, he’s going to be good.”
The Nats always liked Luzardo, but as desperate as they were for bullpen help in July 2017, they couldn’t justify turning down the Athletics’ offer of Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson for the young lefty, plus Blake Treinen and Sheldon Neuse. And given how much Madson (for one year) and Doolittle (for three years) meant to them, the Nats never had any regrets about making the trade, even as Luzardo began to blossom in Oakland and earned Rookie of the Year votes in 2019.
It’s been a downward trend for Luzardo since, though, and things have only gotten worse since the Marlins acquired him last month for Starling Marte. In five starts since, he now sports an unsightly 9.82 ERA and 2.182 WHIP.
The Nationals added to those numbers tonight by having Luzardo’s number, especially the second and third time through the order. During one stretch in the fourth and fifth innings, they went 7-for-11 with a double, a triple and two homers, piling up five runs in the process.
“Electric arm, man. He’s going to be a good pitcher in this league in the future,” Barrera, a fellow member of the draft class of 2016, said of Luzardo. “But we knew we had to get him on the plate, make him throw strikes. I feel like we were patient, got in good counts and got good pitches to hit.”
And that was more than enough run support on this night for Fedde, who looked as sharp as he ever has. Three of the first four Miami batters who reached against him did so either via error or infield single. His curveball and cutter were responsible for eight of his 10 strikeouts.
And though he departed after putting two on with one out in the seventh, his pitch count up to 103, Fedde walked off the mound with a smile on his face, fully satisfied with this performance.
Now the Nationals just need to see more of it on a more regular basis from him.
“Especially the last three or four starts, I thought my stuff has been great,” Fedde said. “And then I just haven’t really had the success, or I’ll give up a two-run home run or something late in games. I think (if I) just continue that process of thinking my stuff is good - especially at the moment - and keep being aggressive, these outings will come. I know these outings definitely help the mindset, and knowing you can do well at this level.”