- - Tuesday, March 20, 2018

WEST PALM BEACH, FLA. — When Nationals’ prospect Erick Fedde made his Major League debut last season, it was a disaster. The former first-round pick allowed a whopping 25 hits in 15.1 innings with an ERA of 9.39 in three starts.

The shellacking gave him a new appreciation for what it would take for him to pitch in the majors, said the right-hander, who is in the mix to be the team’s No. 5 man in the starting rotation this season.

“It was not the best start I was hoping for in my big league career. Mistakes are amplified,” he said. “I learned a ton in my three starts, like what is going to take to compete at this level. This camp in spring training here, I feel much better. I got to spend a month up here with the guys” last season.

Fedde, 25, has been a starter his entire baseball career, but when the Nationals bullpen was struggling early last season, the organization even thought about using him as a reliever.

“They kind of called me into the office,” he recalled. “It was like a conference call with upper guys in the organization. ‘Hey, we are thinking of trying you out there (in the bullpen). We are going to move you to the bullpen.’ It is not something, I guess, that is unheard of.”

And if that was what it took to get him to Washington, Fedde said he was open to the idea.

“I tried to take it as a compliment. If someone gives me a chance to get to the big leagues (quicker) I am for it,” said Fedde, standing by his locker during spring training.

Turns out he wasn’t needed by the Nationals bullpen, which turned things around with the trades for closer Sean Doolittle and setup men Ryan Madson and Brandon Kintzler midway through the 2017 season.

Fedde made a combined 16 appearances out of the bullpen for Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse last year before he went back to his familiar starting role.

His latest outing came out of the bullpen here on Friday, when he came on in the sixth inning after starter Gio Gonzalez went five innings.

Fedde allowed just one run in three and two-third innings to the St. Louis Cardinals and that lowered his ERA to 2.84 in five spring training games, with two starts.

“I think highly of him,” manager Dave Martinez told reporters after the game. “He’s really good. He’s really young. We’re going to keep building him up. We haven’t made any decisions on the fifth starter’s spot. But I like Erick a lot.”

Washington catcher Matt Wieters has been impressed not only with “the stuff” Fedde has, but his composure on the mound.

“I love his mentality; he has no fear for any hitters. He goes after them,” Wieters said. “He pitched better than his numbers showed (last year). I think he knows that. He is able to take information and learns from it.”

Wieters said Fedde can’t make drastic changes just because of a rocky start last season.

“He has to get a much larger sample size before he makes any fundamental changes,” said the veteran catcher. “Once he makes 30 starts (in the majors) I think you will see pretty good results out of him.”

Fedde went home to Las Vegas in early October and watched on television as the Nationals lost to the Cubs in the playoffs. He and his girlfriend made a trip to Germany, where her parents are from, then got back to work.

Part of his learning process is gaining wisdom from veteran pitchers such as Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. “I have tried to move (around) to each one since each pitcher is different,” Fedde said. “I have learned a lot off the field in a sense of how to prepare, study a game plan and be in the gym. That is what I have learned from them.”

Fedde has learned some tips from Nationals reliever Brandon Kintzler, who is also from Las Vegas. The two have known each other since Fedde was playing amateur ball. “He knows a good amount about my pitching style. I think he really knows what he is talking about,” Fedde said.

Fedde said he will not be deterred if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster. “Then it is my job to go to (Triple-A) Syracuse and pitch to the best of my ability and make it impossible for them not to call me up,” he said.

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