Nationals’ Erick Fedde, more confident than ever, throwing strikes with purpose

Fedde, more confident than ever, throwing strikes with purpose originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

WASHINGTON — The Nationals haven’t set a high bar for what qualifies as the ace of their pitching staff in the early goings of this season. Entering play Wednesday, four of the starters in their rotation sported ERAs above 5.00. The only one who didn’t, however, proceeded to silence the Los Angeles Dodgers’ bats across six scoreless innings in Washington’s 1-0 win on Wednesday. 

Erick Fedde lowered his season ERA to 3.55 with the latest in a string of impressive performances for the right-hander in the month of May. Over his last five starts, Fedde has made it into the sixth inning three times while allowing just six earned runs (1.95 ERA). On Wednesday, he scattered four hits and a walk with six strikeouts to help the Nationals hand the Dodgers their first shutout loss of the season.

“We’ve talked a lot about him early about how much he’s maturing and how much his routine has changed, and you see the results from that,” manager Davey Martinez said in his postgame presser. “He’s been working with [pitching coach Jim] Hickey…diligently in his bullpens, just working on pitches, the shape of his pitches, his changeup, his cutter, all that stuff and he goes out there and he competes. Now, he’s got a little confidence behind him, which is really nice.”

Fedde has found success by generating weak contact, an area he’s struggled for much of his career. He went into the series finale carrying an average exit velocity of 87 mph, on pace for the lowest of his career. The 29-year-old has also been pounding the upper half of the strike zone more often and generating outs on flyballs that might have been home runs in years past.

This was a critical year for Fedde, who entered his second-straight season without any minor-league options. Injuries to Stephen Strasburg, Joe Ross and Aníbal Sánchez eliminated any chance of a roster battle in spring training, but he had to pitch well enough out of the gate to justify holding onto a rotation spot once those pitchers were ready to return.

With all three on the mend and Strasburg emerging healthy from his first rehab start, Fedde may be forcing the Nationals to look elsewhere when they do have to make some tough roster decisions.

“I think it’s just the command of the cutter, especially to lefties,” Fedde said of his improvement this season. “That’s where I’ve had a lot of trouble throughout [my] career, where teams stack seven or eight of them against me. Just really didn’t have a weapon that I felt could punch them out or really keep them off the barrel.”

Lefties were hitting .196 off Fedde’s cutter this season before Wednesday’s game. The Dodgers only started four such hitters, but they combined to go 1-10 with three strikeouts against him. He used to be a pitcher with a reputation for nibbling around the strike zone. Now, he’s bringing the aggression to his matchups and forcing his opponents to catch up.

“He’s got confidence now where he feels like he can attack the strike zone with all his pitches,” Martinez said. “He’s throwing strikes with all his pitches, which is really nice and that’s something that we harped on with him for years especially when he gets to two strikes. Not going 2-2, 3-2 all the time, just keep attacking, keep attacking, your stuff is good. He’s getting better at it, he really is.”

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