- - Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Major League Baseball in September is not like the other months of the season, as rosters expand and some games have less meaning as teams are mathematically eliminated from the playoff picture.

But don’t tell Erick Fedde, 25, that the games are not important.

A Nationals first-round draft pick four years ago, Fedde is taking advantage of his opportunities this month as a right-handed starter for Washington. And the Las Vegas native is one of a number of players hoping an impressive September leads to a roster spot next spring.

The Nationals are close to being eliminated from postseason play, but games this month serve as an audition for 2019. With the trade last month of veteran lefty Gio Gonzalez, there will be at least one spot open next season in the starting rotation.

Fedde had the best start of his career on Sept. 11 in Philadelphia when he allowed no runs on two hits with two walks and nine strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings.

“I would say there is a lot more confidence and little more relaxation in realizing it is the same game and my stuff plays at this level,” Fedde said on Sept. 12. “I am excited to continue. I guess my overall best outing. For sure a confidence boost and what I should hold my standards to.”

He followed that up this past Monday by coming within two outs of throwing five scoreless innings at Miami against the Marlins. But he gave up a two-run double in the fifth to Starlin Castro and was replaced by veteran reliever Justin Miller. Fedde gave up two runs on just two hits in 4 1/3 innings, but walked four while fanning six.

“Ninety-four pitches in four innings. So he couldn’t get ahead (in the count)” manager Dave Martinez said. “He was always low (in the zone). When he got ahead, he was OK, but wasn’t often.”

“Slider was missing arm side all day and then yanking the fastball,” Fedde told reporters.

That left Fedde with a mark of 2-3 and a 5.02 ERA in nine starts this year for the Nationals. Fedde made 14 minor league starts this year, 13 with Triple-A Syracuse, and was 3-4 with a 4.29 ERA.

Fedde made just three starts in his first big league season for the Nationals in 2017 and was 0-1 with a 9.39 ERA.

So he has shown signs of improvement.

Fedde has been competing for starts this month with two other young right-handers: Joe Ross and Jefry Rodriguez. And veteran Jeremy Hellickson also made a start this past weekend in Atlanta before he injured his pitching hand, most likely ending his season.

But Fedde said there is a sense of togetherness on the staff.

“I would definitely say it’s a group effort,” Fedde said. “Just the other day (Hellickson) was helping with the (placement of) my hands in the delivery.”

That teamwork is huge for Fedde.

“It has been amazing thing to be a part of it,” he said his second big league season.

Fedde had his first major league hit Sept. 11 — the same day catcher Spencer Kieboom smashed his first homer in the big leagues. The two were teammates in the minors from 2016 to this season.

“There is nothing better than seeing someone be successful, especially someone you care about. It has been a journey for both of us. I am really happy for him. It is inspiring,” said Fedde, who had Tommy John surgery before making his pro debut.

After this season, Fedde will head home to Las Vegas, where he recently bought a place. He will see friends and attend some weddings then get down to business.

“I will take most of October off and settle in. Then in November will start to work out and then in the middle of December will start throwing again,” he said.

When he gets to West Palm Beach, Florida, in February, he could be in the mix for being part of the Nationals starting rotation in what they hope is a bounce-back season.

This year has been a bust as the Nationals were 76-75 overall and close to being mathematically eliminated from postseason contention going into Tuesday’s game in Miami against the Marlins. Washington is off Wednesday and then begins its last homestand of the year Thursday against the Mets.

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