Spring training is upon us which means baseball season is only a month away. Now is the time for teams to finalize their rosters and answer their biggest questions. For Washington, it’s whose gonna be the fifth starter in the rotation. The first four spots are filled by Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez. Thus leaving one spot for three candidates in Erick Fedde, Jeremy Hellickson and Joe Ross. Here is a look at the case for all three and the prediction of who is going to win the final spot.
Fedde was the Nationals top pitching prospect going into last season but struggled in the majors. Last season in 11 starts, Fedde went 2-4 with a 5.54 ERA and 46 strikeouts. He battled injuries last season and needs to prove to his team he can stay healthy. Manager Dave Martinez had this to say about Fedde, “He’s fighting for the fifth starter’s spot. That’s what he’s doing right now,” Manager Dave Martinez said. “And he gets it. I told him, ‘We’ve got to keep you healthy.’ The big thing with him is his health. Other than pitching, he’s got to have a routine. He’s got to continue to work on his strengthening, his flexibility. That’s the way we keep him on the field.”
Fedde told the Washington Post that he put on 20 pounds in an attempt to build his body up and become more durable. It seems to be working as Fedde was lights out in his first appearance this spring. He picked up the win against the Cardinals as he threw two scoreless innings, giving up one hit and striking out three.
Hellickson had a successful 2018 season with Washington after bouncing around the few years prior. Last season he was limited due to injuries but still finished the season 5-3 with a 3.45 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 19 starts. Hellickson re-signed with the team to a one year contract that is worth $1.3 million. He is the front runner for the fifth spot but, has to battle an improved Fedde and healthy Ross.
Hellickson is confident in his abilities as he has recently stated, “The big thing for me was, I didn’t want to come into camp and have to compete for a job again,” Hellickson, 31, said Friday morning before the team’s second official workout for pitchers and catchers. “I felt like I proved myself enough last year where I didn’t have to do that. That was part of the dialogue when we were talking [about a deal for 2019]. That’s kind of where we left it. I haven’t really heard much after that.”
Hellickson may be overqualified to be the fifth starter, but that’s how deep the Nationals rotation is this year. He has yet to pitch this spring, but will need to pick up where he left off as Ross and Fedde both impressed in their first appearance.
Ross was in a position to be an important member of the Nationals pitching rotation before he missed part of 2016 due to right shoulder inflammation. Then he went on to most of the 2017 and 2018 season due to Tommy John surgery.
He only thew 16 innings last season, but before he underwent Tommy John surgery Ross was impressive. In 2016, the only year Ross threw over 100 innings, he went 7-5 with a 3.43 ERA and 93 strikeouts. Ross will be under a pitch count as the team eases him back.
In Ross’s first appearance this spring he threw two scoreless innings. He gave up one hit and struck out two as he threw 36 pitches. Ross was able to pitch out of a jam as he stranded two runners after giving up a walk and a hit with two outs. While it is unlikely Ross will win the fifth spot, if he continues to pitch like this, Martinez will be in a tough position when it comes to naming the fifth starter.
Prediction: Jeremy Hellickson wins the fifth spot. Ross and Fedde will be sent down to Triple A to stay active, before they will be called up to be long relievers. They will both be used as spot starters in case Strasburg and Sanchez miss time due to injuries.
Feature Image From The Washington Post.
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