Erick Fedde has been here before, so at this point in his career, he’s learned to block out the noise. Still, the noise was particularly loud Sunday.
Fedde, who filled in first for Jon Lester and later for Stephen Strasburg as the fifth starter in the Washington Nationals’ rotation, took the mound against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The same day, down at the Triple-A level, Strasburg was finishing a 75-pitch rehab start. He’s nearing a return to the big league club, a month after he landed on the injured list with shoulder inflammation April 18.
That figures to leave Fedde as the odd man out, yet again. But the 28-year-old made a strong case for a place in the rotation, giving manager Dave Martinez plenty to ponder. Fedde threw seven scoreless innings Sunday, walking two and allowing three hits while striking out four batters. The outing was his longest of the season, and Martinez said “that’s probably the best I’ve seen him throw.”
There’s still much uncertainty ahead of Fedde, though. He could be relegated to a bullpen role, the one he was originally tagged for as spring training ended. He might force Martinez into a six-man rotation, but there are complications with that, too. Or Fedde could bump another starter out of their spot, however unlikely that seems.
But whatever comes next for Fedde, the Las Vegas native has learned to not waste energy worrying about what-ifs and could-have-beens.
“I see Stras in the clubhouse all the time; I know he’s getting close,” Fedde said. “And I don’t know, I just — I’ve been in this spot so often it’s almost something I don’t think about it anymore. Just because, I’ve learned the more you think about it, it still doesn’t matter at all. But, yeah, my job is to go out there and pitch well, and today I hope I added something to my résumé on why I should still be in the rotation.”
Sunday’s outing does add another strong start to Fedde’s line. He kept the ball low in the zone, with his sinker particularly effective. He didn’t allow a run for the first time this year, but it’s not for a lack of solid performances.
Throw out his first outing — which ended after 1⅔ innings, five earned runs and nine baserunners — Fedde has allowed three runs or fewer in six of the seven starts that followed. He began the year as a Band-Aid fix for Lester, who started on the coronavirus protocol list and then needed to work his arm back into shape.
Once Strasburg landed on the injured list, Fedde remained in the rotation to cover for him, too. That’s how Fedde has pieced together his major league career thus far, which has included 42 starts amid 54 appearances across five seasons.
With a solid core of high-end starters — be it Strasburg, Max Scherzer or Patrick Corbin — there’s very little room in the rotation to etch out a spot. He’s often been in the running for the fifth starter spot. And he’s often come up short, or he didn’t show enough when he finally got his chance.
“I feel like for as long as I can remember, we’ve always had four just kind of workhorses, so that fifth spot has always been tough to nail down, or it’s been a guy with a ton of experience,” Fedde said. “You had to learn to deal with it if you want to stick around. And plus, it’s the benefit of playing on a winning ball club.”
This time seems different — at least with what Fedde has produced on a consistent basis. And that’s given Martinez reason to wonder. Before Sunday’s game, he admitted the team is thinking of the possibility of using a six-man rotation. The benefit could be to limit Joe Ross and Strasburg’s innings after missing most or all of last season.
The caveat to that plan, though, is Martinez’s desire to keep Scherzer on his usual five-day schedule. Picking which arms start on which days could get complicated, but it’s a way to keep Fedde in the mix while also reducing the tax on the other hurlers.
Otherwise, Fedde will head for the bullpen. He’s done well in that role in the 28 innings he’s been used as a reliever in the majors — holding opponents to a .576 on-base-plus-slugging percentage despite a 1.214 WHIP.
With Ross coming off a shaky outing, in which he allowed eight runs in four innings Saturday, Fedde could find an opening if that form were to continue. But on the whole, Ross has been solid, and he’s a probable starter in this week’s series against the Chicago Cubs.
That leaves Fedde without a clearly defined role.
“Either way, he knows how important he is to us, whether he starts again or goes in the bullpen,” Martinez said. “I really like what he’s done. I really do. He’s pitched well. So we have some decisions to make.”
Fedde is used to these kinds of decisions being made in regard to his playing time. He hopes this time he’ll find a spot and stick rather than bouncing around. But if that’s not the way Martinez chooses to go, Fedde knows that doesn’t spell the end of his starting days. It’s just another sidetrack.
“If I end up back in the pen, it’s my job to continue to throw well,” Fedde said. “And it’s a 162-game season again, and staying healthy is not always the easiest. So it’s my job to be ready.”