- - Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Nationals entered Sunday with a team ERA of 3.98, the eighth-best mark in the league. But the pitching staff has allowed 185 homers — third worst in the National League.

On Sunday, it was Erick Fedde’s turn to exemplify that Nationals pitching staff schizophrenia, as the starter was pulled in the fourth inning of an 8-6 loss to the New York Mets.

“He just didn’t throw strikes,” said manager Dave Martinez of Fedde. “At one point he threw more balls than strikes. Just couldn’t find the strike zone today.”

Fedde was seen as a possible fifth starter coming out of spring training but began the year at Triple-A. A.J. Cole, now with the Yankees, began the season as the fifth starter but was replaced by veteran right-hander Jeremy Hellickson in late April.

Fedde gave up five hits and three runs with four walks in 3 1/3 innings on Sunday against the Mets. The Las Vegas native entered the game with an ERA of 5.02 in his first nine starts, with a record of 2-3.

What does he take away from his second big league season?

“I mean, just another building block,” he said. “I like to think this year’s been much more of a growing experience and something where I have had ups and downs. I’m not where I want to be, but I can see that I’m getting close and I’m just trying to take this year one step at a time and finish strong here at the end, and hopefully be a better pitcher for this team in the long run.”

There were some bright spots for the Nationals (78-78), who were eliminated from playoff contention on Saturday.

Trea Turner stole his 42nd base of the year and now has 123 for his career, a new record for the Nationals franchise circa 2005. He had been in a tie with Ian Desmond, the former Washington shortstop who is now with Colorado.

“I think it’s always cool to be mentioned along with it, or beat one or set your own. It’s a lot of hard work. It shows it can pay off if you continue to try to get better and put the work in over a long time. So, I like it,” said Turner, who had two hits and three walks.

Another good sign was the development of outfielder Victor Robles, who hit leadoff and played left field. He hit a homer in the third inning and drove in two runs with a triple in the eighth.

Robles played in 13 games last year with the Nationals as a rookie.

“The more you play the more comfortable you get with knowing what to do. So I feel good about that,” Robles said via interpreter Octavio Martinez.

Robles, called up from Triple-A Syracuse in early September, has made some adjustments at the plate since a road trip to Miami earlier this month. He is hitting .227 with two homers in 15 games this month.

“It has helped me a lot,” he said of the changes made in Miami. “I feel more relaxed and comfortable at home plate. I stay more patient and I see more pitches a lot earlier and that helps me feel more comfortable out there.”

Robles and other outfielders had to be careful on a wet field Sunday.

“It is definitely uncomfortable with the elements out there but you have no control over that. So you’ve got to make the adjustments yourself … and play the game,” he said.

Fedde’s best outing of the season was September 11 at Philadelphia, when he gave up two hits and two runs in 5 2/3 innings, with a career-high nine strikeouts. Fedde made his previous start September 17 in Miami and he allowed two runs on two hits in 4 1/3 innings while walking four.

And on Sunday he took another step backward.

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