Welcome to Sliders, a weekly in-season MLB column that focuses on both the timely and timeless elements of baseball. 

Erick Fedde could not have known what awaited him. There was no hint, on that sobering final day of the 2022 season, that his next major-league game would come with the Chicago White Sox. Or that he’d have a $15 million contract and own a Most Valuable Player award from a league roughly 7,000 miles away.

All Fedde knew was that he’d pitched his way out of a major-league roster spot. That was probably assured even before that brutal day at Citi Field when the Mets scored three runs off him in the first inning … and the second … and the third. He did not expect the Washington Nationals to offer him a contract for 2023, and he was right.

In six seasons with Washington, Fedde had posted a 5.41 ERA. It was the highest of the 126 MLB pitchers who had worked as many innings as he had — 454 1/3 — since his debut in 2017. The final game was his worst, the only time Fedde allowed nine runs without getting nine outs.

“It was about as big of a punch in the gut as you can get,” he said by phone this week from Chicago. “I was already worried about being non-tendered, so I had to think about that all offseason waiting for the eventual call where the Nats decided to let me go — and I can’t blame them for that at all. That was a moment to look yourself in the mirror and be like: ‘Good thing you’re trying to figure this out.’”

Fedde had resolved by then to make major changes to his style of pitching, a decision that would take him to the Korean Baseball Organization, where he went 20-6 with a 2.00 ERA in 30 starts for the NC Dinos. The White Sox signed Fedde in December for two years and $15 million, and while the team has struggled, he has thrived.

Fedde worked into the ninth inning last Sunday to help the White Sox, who are 6-25, finish a sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays. In six starts, he is 2-0 with a 2.60 ERA, with 39 strikeouts and 9 walks in 34 2/3 innings. At 31, he’s embracing the role of staff leader.

“I played on a Nats team that constantly had just absolute horses at the top of the rotation,” Fedde said. “And I always felt — not in a bad way — but I was like the fifth or sixth starter, just trying to get by and get the ball to the bullpen. And I missed that feeling like everybody was counting on me, like they did in Korea.”

Fedde is the second pitcher in the past five seasons to leave the majors, win the MVP award in the KBO and return with a life-changing contract. Josh Lindblom also did it, signing with Milwaukee for three years and $9.125 million after dominating the KBO in 2019.

“When you go to Asia — Japan or Korea — I don’t want to say you’re out of sight, out of mind, but you don’t have the voices, all these different people giving you opinions,” said Lindblom, who now works for the Brewers as an assistant in player development.

“So, mentally, you’re the one evaluating your performance. You don’t have to get on Twitter after you give up 15 runs and everybody’s telling you how bad you are, and how you need to go home and retire. You’re really in a vacuum because you don’t speak the language, so it creates an environment to be creative, to try things maybe you didn’t have the time or the luxury to work on in the U.S.”

Freedom, Lindblom said, is the word that best describes his KBO experience. And that’s what the league gave to Fedde: freedom to get regular work in a highly competitive setting and implement the changes he made after the 2022 season.

Fedde had picked up some useful tips in Washington: a cutter from Max Scherzer, a skill for video analysis from Stephen Strasburg. Another Nationals teammate, Sean Doolittle, gave him a final one, recommending a training complex in Arizona.

Fedde moved there from Las Vegas to fully immerse himself in the process. Andrew Amato, the director of pitching at Push Performance in Tempe, found a pupil who had lost velocity — “His heater was just bad,” Amato said — and needed to fix the way his spine and shoulders moved.

Lowering Fedde’s arm angle, they discovered, could make a difference.

“You’re throwing significantly harder when you just kind of sling it from that lower slot — not a low slot by any means, but like a low three-quarter slot,” Amato said he told Fedde. “So let’s roll with it and let’s pair your stuff off of that.”

To emphasize horizontal movement, Fedde worked with two other major leaguers who trained at the facility, Logan Webb of the Giants and Shelby Miller, now with the Tigers. Webb helped Fedde develop his changeup, and Miller worked with him on the sweeper. Those pitches, plus a harder fastball and cutter, gave Fedde better options for both lefties and righties.

They also endeared him to the White Sox, whose new pitching director, Brian Bannister, had helped turn Webb into one of the National League’s best starters. In the early weeks with Chicago, Fedde is pitching with the same kind of confidence as Webb, who aggressively challenges hitters.

“It’s a bad feeling when you feel like the hitter knows you’re going to throw a fastball and then you’re a little more timid to go on the plate,” Fedde said. “But the belief (now is) that I can throw any pitch over the zone and there’s a good chance they’re probably not looking for it, because I have so many weapons. And that leads to less walks, for sure.”

Fedde reduced his walk rate from 4.1 per nine innings with the Nationals in 2022 to 1.7 per nine in the KBO last season. In his past two starts for the White Sox, he has 20 strikeouts and no walks. Finally, it seems, Fedde is pitching like he belongs.

“I think if I could go back, it would be, ‘Why did you wait until you got non-tendered to make a big change?’” Fedde said. “Maybe I’m kicking myself that I didn’t try to improve the arsenal or get myself in the best situation possible in 2020 versus 2022.

“But where I’m at now, I’m happy, I’m very lucky, and I’m glad that I had my bumpy road to get here.”


For Dave Winfield, a status symbol at last

A few months ago, Bret Boone found himself at an event with Hall of Famer Dave Winfield. Boone expected Winfield to ask about his brother, Aaron, who used to imitate the slugger as a boy. Or, perhaps, about his father, Bob, a teammate on All-Star teams in the ’70s and ’80s.

“So we’re chit-chatting,” Boone said. “And he goes, ‘How’s your Uncle Rod? We were teammates in Fairbanks.’”

Winfield’s time as an Alaska Goldpanner, in 1971 and 1972, was pivotal in his development as a hitter. A dominant pitcher for the University of Minnesota, Winfield finally got to show off his hitting prowess in a collegiate summer league in Fairbanks, where he launched a home run estimated at 500 feet that struck the Fairbanks Curling Club building across the street from Growden Park.

On June 21, before the Goldpanners’ annual “Midnight Sun” game, that moment will be celebrated for posterity with a statue — the first anywhere depicting Winfield.

“To be honored like this, it’s a wonderful thing,” Winfield said in a Zoom conference this week, according to MLB.com. “I look forward to bringing my family to a place that really made a difference in my life.”

The inspiration for the statue came from a New York Times article noting that Hall of Famers liked to jab Winfield about not having one. The writer of that piece — hi there — heard about the teasing on a Bret Boone podcast with Ozzie Smith, the Hall of Fame shortstop who has a statue in St. Louis.

“I remember with Ozzie, I was separating people,” said Boone, himself a former Alaska Goldpanner. “I’m like: ‘There’s great players, there’s Hall of Famers, and then the ultimate, I think, is when you get the statue.’ That’s the next level. That’s the separator. You’re not just a run-of-the-mill Hall of Famer, you’re a statue Hall of Famer.”

Now that Winfield has reached that peak, Boone said, he needs to get him as a guest on his podcast. It seems only fair.


Gimme Five

Five bits of ballpark wisdom

Why Joey Wendle doesn’t wear batting gloves

Joey Wendle doesn’t keep a list of the other major leaguers who refuse to wear batting gloves. But there’s mutual respect among the handful — a rather sticky handful, at that — who go bare-handed for the toughest task in sports.

“You recognize it when you see it,” said Wendle, the Mets’ veteran infielder. “I guess it’s a little brotherhood.”

Some past practitioners, like Moises Alou and Jorge Posada, would urinate on their palms to harden the skin and prevent calluses. Wendle doesn’t do that (“No, no, no,” he insists), but he’s careful to use just the right sticking agents — including the popular Manny Mota Grip Stick, under the right conditions — to keep his 34-inch, 31-ounce Victus birch bat from flying loose.

Here are Wendle’s five insights into how, and why, you might choose to hit with your bare hands.

1. It’s another way of banning a “shift”: I always prefer the feel of my hand on the bat as opposed to the glove. When I hit with a batting glove, I just feel like it shifts. It moves a little bit. There’s something in between my hand and the bat. The benefit of it is the consistency of the grip.

2. Sticky stuff helps: If it was one of those things where I threw my bat a couple times a week, I’d be like, “OK, I need to reevaluate.” But I throw it about as much as guys with gloves do, so I don’t think that’s really an issue. I always have the tape on the handle (in a criss-cross pattern), and if it’s colder and drier, then just regular pine tar and rosin. That works no matter what, so you can always kind of fall back on that.

3. Check the weather before using Manny Mota Stick: I feel like you need humidity for that. If it’s not humid, then you have to put it on before every at-bat. But if it’s a good warm, humid day, then you put it on once and it’s good for the rest of the game. And you can put a little bit of rubbing alcohol on it to kind of freshen it up if you don’t want a bunch of it caked on there. So that’s what I do, and then I’ll wash my hands off with some water and just rub it down with a towel before I go to bat if I ever have sweaty palms or oil on there.

4. Calluses are cool; blisters are brutal: Calluses are actually good. There’s three or four main ones, easily, and you need them. It’s just the blisters that can set you back. Because you have this big old callus, and then you end up with a blister that takes all that skin off. The blisters usually come in spring training, or if you end up gripping the bat too hard. If you don’t have the right pine-tar combination and there’s no give — if it just feels flat where you’re gripping — that’s where I’ll start to tear them a little bit.


A look at Joey Wendle’s calloused right hand. (Tyler Kepner / The Athletic)

5. Don’t ask Dad for batting gloves: My kids actually want them. I’m like, “OK, you can have ’em — but you’re buying them yourself.’”


Off the Grid

A historical detour from the Immaculate Grid

Danny Darwin/Astros and Giants

Danny Darwin was my original go-to guy on the Grid. For some reason, his teams come immediately to mind. He seems to be gaining in popularity now, so I don’t use him as much. But he fit in an Astros/Giants square last week; he won an ERA title with Houston in 1990, and finished with San Francisco eight years later.

Darwin’s career fascinates me, and not just because of his cool nicknames: the Bonham Bullet and Dr. Death. He pitched for eight teams across 21 seasons, consistently better than league average as both a starter and reliever — yet never made an All-Star team, never won an award and never pitched in the postseason.


A 42-year-old Danny Darwin pitches for the Giants in May 1998. (Jonathan Daniel / Allsport)

And for all his travels, Darwin never played for a New York or Los Angeles-area team. His itinerary: Texas, Milwaukee, Houston, Boston, Toronto, Texas (again), Pittsburgh, Houston (again), the White Sox and San Francisco.

In the All-Star Game era (since 1933), there are 78 players with careers lasting at least 21 seasons. Only three managed to never make an All-Star team: Rick Dempsey, LaTroy Hawkins and Darwin. But Dempsey was a World Series MVP and Hawkins, who played for both New York teams, reached the postseason five times.

Darwin, comparatively, hid in plain sight for more than two decades. The Immaculate Grid is his showcase.


Classic Clip

Bob Costas visits “Cheers” during the 1986 World Series

We couldn’t let May Day pass without a trip to “Cheers” for this week’s Classic Clip. The show starred Ted Danson as Sam “Mayday” Malone, a washed-up Red Sox pitcher who owns a tavern in Boston. Naturally, the writers sprinkled baseball goodies throughout the 1982-1993 run.

Carla recited Ike Delock’s career ERA. Sam rapped about groin injuries. Rebecca feigned interest in Yaz’s taters. And who can forget the time Wade Boggs got pantsed?

But there’s an extra baseball scene that didn’t actually air on the show. Before Game 3 of the 1986 World Series at Fenway Park, NBC ran a sketch in which Bob Costas drops by “Cheers” for an interview. The league championship series was broadcast by ABC that fall, so Costas had time to tape the segment in California as soon as the Red Sox-Mets matchup was set.

He played along with Rhea Pearlman’s Carla, who called him “short, cute and lucky I’m free tonight” and slipped him her number. Shelley Long, as Diane, said she liked Costas “so much better than that Bert Fussberger guy” (that is, Brent Musburger). Danson, though, was not quite as smooth with his lines about how to pitch Gary Carter.

“He nailed the role of Sam Malone — ‘Cheers’ is one of the greatest sitcoms ever — and it’s not a crime, he just didn’t know anything about baseball,” Costas said. “Which was odd, because he was playing, at least in theory, a former Red Sox relief pitcher. But he didn’t have the baseball jargon down.”

Costas helped by jotting a few terms for Danson onto a cocktail napkin placed strategically on the bar — and Mayday Malone delivered.

“Danson’s a terrific actor, so no one would have really known,” Costas said, “but a couple of times he looked down on what was scribbled on the napkin.”

(Top photo of Erick Fedde: Griffin Quinn / Getty Images)

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