- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 23, 2018

By the time Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez marched to the pitcher’s mound in the seventh inning to pull starter Erick Fedde on Saturday, Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco was on second following a leadoff double.

Philadelphia manager Gabe Kapler didn’t hesitate to pull his starting pitcher Aaron Nola, who had allowed four hits through six innings, when Nola’s spot came to bat with one out in the seventh and Franco on third. Nola had thrown 83 pitches. But pinch hitter Jesmuel Valentín hit a sacrifice fly to shallow right field to give the Phillies a one-run lead, one they wouldn’t relinquish en route to a 5-3 win.

Fedde seemed to prove that “he can pitch here,” as Martinez said of the 25-year-old rookie before Saturday’s contest. He completed six innings for the first time this season. Fedde had thrown 97 pitches through six, tied for his season high with the Nationals. Right-hander Ryan Madson was ready in the bullpen, poised to relieve Fedde after a solid outing.

But Fedde returned for the seventh, set to face Franco, who was 2-for-2 against Fedde. Then, Franco became 3-for-3 against Fedde with a liner into left-center that got past Bryce Harper and bounced to the wall for a double, the fourth leadoff baserunner Fedde allowed.

“It’s time to stretch him out a little bit and he was dealing,” Martinez said. “He was going to keep going, but we get a guy on, you know, we had Madson ready.”

Phillies catcher Jorge Alfaro’s groundout advanced Franco to third, and Valentín’s sacrifice fly broke the deadlock established in the second inning. Adam Eaton’s throw from right field was good, but catcher Spencer Kieboom moved in front of the plate, too far to dive across to nab Franco sliding in.

“It’s on me,” Kieboom said. “I thought maybe it was going to be a little bit of a short hop and Adam made a great throw. And I came up a little bit, retreated, but at the same time, you know, just had too much space.”

Martinez said before Saturday’s contest that his squad would need to jump on Nola’s fastballs when they appeared, knowing Nola often used breaking pitches effectively.

So, the 19-year-old Juan Soto swung at a first-pitch fastball in the first inning, splitting the left-center field gap for a ground-rule double. It set up Daniel Murphy’s two-out, two-run single to establish an early 2-0 lead.

Fedde rolled through the first five batters of the game, with first-pitch strikes to each of them. But Phillies shortstop Scott Kingery reached on an infield single with two away in the second. Then, three consecutive singles, capped with an RBI hit from Nola, drove in two runs to tie the contest.

After Nationals pitcher Tanner Roark’s start lasted just 4 1/3 innings Friday in a 12-2 Philadelphia win that dropped Washington a half game back of the Phillies and into third place in the National League East Division, Martinez needed length from Fedde. The Nationals employed four relievers in the drubbing and still needed to support rookie starts on Saturday and Sunday.

Through Fedde’s first three starts in the big league this season, he hasn’t thrown more than 100 pitches. Martinez said he has been managing the 25-year-old, trying to build him up slowly.

“Right when I walked out in the sixth, I looked at Davey and said, ‘I’m ready to go,’” Fedde said. “I know yesterday we had a long one. However long I could get, especially in a tie game, get us going. Unfortunately, led off that inning pretty poorly, but wish I could’ve done better.”

After Valentín’s sacrifice fly in the seventh, the Nationals turned to right-hander Kelvin Herrera. Herrera bent downin the eighth, hands on knees, as he watched Carlos Santana’s home run sneak over the left field fence, the first run Herrera has allowed as a National.

Then, Herrera, who arrived Monday via trade from Kansas City, surrendered his first walk as a National. Kingery stole second and set up Franco’s 4-for-4 day with two runs scored and an RBI.

The extra runs negated Anthony Rendon’s solo shot in the eighth and doomed Washington to its ninth loss in its last 12 games.

“We’ll start scoring some runs,” Martinez said. “Bullpen right now is a little beat up, so we gotta get that going again.”

• Andy Kostka can be reached at akostka@washingtontimes.com.

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