But the victory — and a needed series win for the Nationals (16-20) — began with Fedde’s arm. He yielded only three hits, walked two and struck out four, shining in front of a big group of friends and family from California and his hometown of Las Vegas.
“Quick and efficient,” Fedde, 28, said of throwing seven scoreless innings for the first time. “Even if they needed me to go out for the eighth, I would have been there.”
The stakes are often bigger than the result of a single game. That is, at least, for any player still trying to stick in the majors. Take Fedde’s whole Sunday as a prime example. Before Fedde took the mound, Stephen Strasburg completed a rehab appearance with the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings in Trenton, N.J. The goal was for Strasburg to get five ups — to stop and start five innings — and throw around 80 pitches. He checked those boxes by recording 13 outs, including the first batter of the fifth, to complete a line of no runs, two hits, two walks and six strikeouts on 75 pitches (41 strikes).
Strasburg has been on the injured list with right shoulder inflammation since April 18. Depending on how he feels after Sunday’s outing, he could be activated this week. And if he is, perhaps to face the Baltimore Orioles at Nationals Park on Friday, Fedde could very well be squeezed out of the rotation.
“Make my decision tough. That’s what I want him to go out there and do,” Nationals Manager Dave Martinez said Sunday morning. “Either way, he knows how important he is to us, whether he starts again or he goes in the bullpen. I’ve really liked what he’s done.”
So did Fedde make the decision tough?
“Definitely. I mean, he threw the ball well,” Martinez said. “I think that’s probably the best I’ve seen him throw.”
And how does Fedde feel about the situation?
“I see Stras in the clubhouse all the time. I know he’s getting close. And I don’t know, I’ve been in this spot so often it’s almost something I don’t think about anymore,” he explained. “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, pitch well, and today I hope I added something to my résumé on why I should still be in the rotation.”
Martinez floated the possibility Sunday morning of having Strasburg, Fedde, Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin, Jon Lester and Joe Ross form a six-man rotation. The pros, Martinez explained, would be extra rest for Strasburg and Ross. Because of carpal tunnel surgery in August, Strasburg has thrown just 15 innings since he was named World Series MVP in 2019. Ross opted out of 2020 because of coronavirus concerns, and Martinez has frequently stressed being careful with the right-hander.
Then there are the obvious complications with a six-man staff. One is that it disrupts each pitcher’s five-day routine. Martinez even noted that, no matter what, Scherzer will stay on his usual schedule. So it’s likely Fedde soon will join the bullpen, where he was supposed to begin the year before he replaced Lester in early April, then Strasburg for the past month. His Sunday could have been more formality than anything else.
But Fedde made the opportunity count. He used all four of his pitches — a sinker, cutter, change-up and curve — to strike out leadoff batter Pavin Smith. He yielded a leadoff double to Stephen Vogt in the second and stranded him in scoring position. In the third, despite some very hard contact, Fedde kept runners on first and second by striking out David Peralta with a 95-mph sinker. He called it his best pitch of the day. His location was otherwise sharp throughout. With his sinker alone, he collected 14 called strikes.
“I had four pitches today, and I think a ton of groundballs was one of the biggest things that was going,” Fedde said. “That usually means my sinker is working, and I was able to throw a bunch of different pitches at the bottom of the zone.”
Fedde retired 10 straight from the third through the end of the sixth. He induced five groundball outs and struck out three in that stretch. Then in the seventh, once Fedde walked Vogt to start the inning, Domingo Leyba bounced into a double play and Nick Ahmed grounded out to short. It was only the second time in Fedde’s career that he pitched into the seventh. And when it was over and there was another zero on the scoreboard, it was hard to ignore the difference between Fedde’s gem and Ross’s outing Saturday night.
Ross was tagged for eight earned runs by a similar Diamondbacks lineup. Fedde did not allow a hit past the third inning. He went out and pushed Martinez’s hand. Yet it may not matter once Strasburg is ready to come off the IL. Sometimes, as Fedde knows, that’s just the way it works.
“It’s the benefit of playing on a winning ballclub, for the most part,” Fedde said of his ever-evolving role. “If I wind up back in the ’pen, my job is to continue to throw well.”