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Erick Fedde’s velocity was down Sunday, but the Nationals rookie isn’t worried

Erick Fedde threw six innings with diminished velocity Sunday. (Aaron Doster/USA Today Sports)

Erick Fedde did not look quite right Sunday afternoon, when the top pitching prospect in the Washington Nationals’ system made the third major league start of his career in a 6-5 loss to the New York Mets.

His fastball velocity dipped from the 94 mph average from his first two big league starts to between 89-91 mph. He threw a slower curveball than he has before, and he barely featured the slider around which he built his first successful season in the minors. One scout in attendance thought Fedde looked like an entirely different pitcher Sunday afternoon. While an expanding arsenal of pitches is encouraging, not alarming, a dip in velocity like that does warrant some concern.

“I think he has under 100 innings this year,” Nationals Manager Dusty Baker said. “I don’t know what the problem is.”

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The Nationals monitor their young pitchers’ innings closely and map out their innings from year to year. Fedde, safely out of Tommy John range now after his 2014 procedure, threw 121 innings in 2016. If he were to increase that load by 20 percent this season — generally considered a conservative and safe jump — Fedde could throw 145 innings this season. After the six innings he threw Sunday, he has thrown 105 2/3.

“I’m not too worried about it,” Fedde said. “It’s something that it’s late in the year, maybe just the body’s a little sore, a little tired.”

When those within the Nationals organization talk about Fedde, they talk about the stuff — the mid-90s fastball and the slider, neither of which he seemed to have Sunday. But they also talk about the grit, and in the longest start of his major league career, Fedde did show an ounce or two of that. His final line included six innings, seven hits, two homers and five strikeouts. Sixty-seven of his 112 pitches were strikes, and he struck out the final batter he faced — Brandon Nimmo — with Baker waiting on the top step to take him out if he erred once more.

He also showcased a slower curveball than before and more of them than he had in previous starts. In spring training, Fedde didn’t even use the curveball, focusing more on perfecting his biting slider and bringing his change-up to a level where it could be relevant in all counts. But when Fedde came up to face the Colorado Rockies for his first major league start in July, Nationals pitching coach Mike Maddux suggested Fedde bring back his curveball and start throwing his slider harder.

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At times Sunday, the scoreboard seemed mixed up between his fastball, slider and change-up and even registered a few cutters — a slider thrown harder. The good news, of course, is that Fedde now seems to have four pitches (five if one counts the power slider/cutter) that he feels comfortable using in major league games. He had 2 1/2 pitches in spring training.

“It’s been something that I think has helped me a lot,” Fedde said. “I have four true pitches now to keep guys off-balance.”

Fedde has been, in some ways, a bit off-balance, too. Though one cannot use strange scheduling as an excuse, Fedde has certainly been out of rhythm since his initial call-up and has shuffled back and forth to Class AAA Syracuse three times in that span. He was the 26th man for Sunday’s doubleheader and will therefore head back to the Chiefs on Monday, too. Fedde could return as a September call-up, assuming he is healthy.

“I guess it’s one of the stranger parts of the game. I haven’t been on a true five-day rotation in a while, but I guess you have to prepare like you’re going to pitch every fifth day, and if you get pushed back, treat it like a rain delay,” Fedde said. “You travel a lot, but you just have to pretend it’s not happening.”

For now, Fedde’s struggles are not a problem. He does not have to start for the Nationals again, barring injury to one of the more established starting five. That he has a 9.39 ERA in three big league starts and has allowed 25 hits in 15 1/3 innings is not an immediate concern, as long as he is healthy. Until Sunday, health was not a concern.

Neither Fedde nor his manager suggested any imminent injury concern Sunday. Sometimes — and Joe Ross experienced this in his first portion of a big league season — young pitchers just hit a wall. But Fedde’s workload would not suggest that wall is near. He will be worth watching down the stretch.


Alejandro De Aza LF

Wilmer Difo SS

Daniel Murphy 2B

Anthony Rendon 3B

Adam Lind 1B

Michael A. Taylor CF

Andrew Stevenson RF

Jose Lobaton C

Tanner Roark P


Jose Reyes SS

Juan Lagares CF

Brandon Nimmo LF

Wilmer Flores 3B

Dominic Smith 1B

Travis Taijeron RF

Kevin Plawecki C

Gavin Cecchini 2B

Seth Lugo P

More on the Nationals:

Scherzer to return Monday

Bautista joins Nationals; Sanchez okay after a night in the hospital

Ryan Zimmerman’s left arm is just fine