Erick Fedde had targeted the date of his first post-Tommy John surgery first bullpen session last month with such anxiousness that, once it was over, it was all a blur. He doesn’t even recall exactly what day it was. (It was March 16.)
“The best way to describe is that when you have such a crazy experience that you hardly remember it,” he said in Viera, Fla, last week. “It was hard even to live in the moment. After I was done, it was only 15 pitches, but I got through it and was like, ‘Holy crap, it’s done!’ I survived and my arm didn’t fall off. It’s more of a shocking experience. You go out there and you’re like, ‘Last time I threw, it didn’t go so well.’ It was good to get through it.”
The earnestness in Fedde’s voice is obvious. The right-handed prospect had surgery on June 3, two days before the Nationals selected him with the 18th overall pick out of UNLV in the 2014 draft. They later inked him to a signing bonus worth nearly $2.5 million and took over his rehab plan. He couldn’t get on the field immediately like other draft picks.
So eight months after his surgery, Fedde was finally back on the mound again. “Slowly but surely I guess you could say,” he said. Since his first mound session, Fedde has thrown change-ups, too, but at 75 percent effort. The next goal, by the final week of April, is to throw a live bullpen session.
“I get to see a hitter for the first time in a very long time,” he said. “I’ll be very excited for that.”
So far, Fedde has been on track with his return. The Nationals have honed a successful, but conservative, return-to-pitch rehab program after Tommy John surgery, one that has helped Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Lucas Giolito.
“We’re pleased with what we see (with Fedde),” said Doug Harris, the Nationals assistant general manager of player development. “Everything is on track from a physical standpoint. He’s gotten over the hump. There’s a grind when you put a lot on the arm. He’s gotten over that hump and he’s throwing the ball very well.”
Normally, when pitchers rehab from Tommy John surgery, they take the time away from the mound to work on their fitness. Some often notice their body change and add strength. After long workouts, Fedde admits he added only five pounds, an accomplishment for the lean 6-foot-4, 180-pound pitcher.
“I try to stick with what got me here and that was being an athletic pitcher,” he said. “I’ve never really pitched from a bulky standpoint. Maybe that’ll be later in my career but I’ll slowly let it happen.”
He added later: “I’m always the long lanky build. [After the rehab,] you feel rested. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t play a sport, just in general, for eight, nine months . But now, getting back into it, your body is definitely in a little bit of a shock. I’ve gone through some things that I’ve never been through before but everyone says it’s pretty normal. I feel stronger. I feel more well-rounded.”
More than anything, Fedde is happy to feel like a pitcher again.
“It was almost kinda depressing standing around watching everybody,” he said. “But now I’m getting dressed out again, going through the drills and feel like a ballplayer again. That’s nice.”
While the minor league season began Thursday, Fedde will stay back in Viera. He is still progressing through his pitching program for another few months. He isn’t expected to join a minor league team to pitch in games until perhaps this summer, and likely short-season Auburn.
“It’s up to them where they put me,” Fedde said. “For right now, the next couple of months will be in Florida. I’ll let them do the deciding. I’ll just keep pitching and see what happens.”