On Monday afternoon, Austin Voth got an idea of what it’s going to be like pitching in an empty ballpark, without fans in the stands, and it was, he said, really a bit unsettling.
“It’s a little eerie, honestly,” Voth told reporters when he spoke on a Zoom call after his sim game outing.
“Like it’s unusual. Like you can hear each side of the dugout. Players in each dugout talking and chirping and you’ve got some of our starters in the stands watching the game and whatnot. Also, the whole new ball rule is kind of new to me too. Every time it gets passed around to more than two players you’ve got to get a new ball. I kept forgetting about that.”
There are a lot of things those who are trying to play baseball in a pandemic are going to have to get used to, but Voth, who’s battling for the fifth spot in the Nationals’ rotation, is willing to make the necessary adjustments to make the most of the opportunity.
“I’ve been preparing for this role like the whole offseason,” the 28-year-old, 2013 5th Round pick said.
“I haven’t stopped preparing for it, and I’m ready if I get the role. It’s something that I’m ready for, I’m ready to take it on.”
Overall last season, Voth put up a 3.30 ERA, a 3.79 FIP, 13 walks (2.68 BB/9), 44 strikeouts, (9.07 K/9), and a .212/.287/.397 line against in 41 1⁄3 innings pitched over his eight starts for the Nationals, and he made one relief appearance for the club as well.
Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez liked what he saw from the righty in the intrasquad game earlier this week.
“Velo was good,” Martinez said. “He’s anywhere from 91-94. He’s got good command.
“Knows what he wants to do when he’s out there, but he looked good for his first outing.”
Are the simulated games against teammates enough to get the juices flowing and help Voth prepare for the regular season, which is fast approaching, with Opening Day scheduled for July 23rd in the nation’s capital? There are three exhibition games on the schedule, and Voth is set to be in the first, following Max Scherzer on the mound, Martinez said, after the righty faced off against the Nats’ ace in Monday’s sim game.
Voth said he thinks it will be enough.
“For sure,” he said. “I mean, just seeing — facing our hitters, and then if I do pitch in an exhibition game, just seeing more of different other hitters in our league, that’s going to help me out tremendously throughout the season being able to see them.
“It’s just another team that I get to face and kind of figure things out with my stuff, and kind of go through the steps of how I’m going to approach each batter just like a regular season game.”
Voth told reporters this winter that he was digging into the available data for ways he could improve, and focusing on his slider, specifically against right-handers, after righties hit .300 on the pitch last season (vs a .250 AVG for LHBs on his slider).
The focus this Spring and over the layoff when baseball was shut down, Voth said, has been on the slider/cutter and a splitter he’s been working on.
“Those are kind of the two newer pitches that I’m throwing,” Voth said when asked if he was tweaking anything in his mechanics or repertoire.
“Mechanically, nothing has really changed. I feel like I’m comfortable with the mechanics I’ve had.
“Maybe tinkering a little bit here and there with keeping my back foot planted. It tends to come off the rubber at times when I try to rush to the plate.
“But yeah, just splitter, and cutter and keeping my back foot on the rubber.”
With under two weeks to get ready for the start of the 60-game campaign, Voth said he just needs to build arm strength right now for the sprint of a season.
“I want to build up. I haven’t really built up to five innings or anything like that,” he said.
“I think we’re all in the same boat. I think I’ll get to four innings my next outing, but just seeing more batters for the most part, and having more live at bats.
“I think that’s the main thing. Having to [start and shut down] it’s like I just want to be able to see more live batters and be able to throw against batters rather than just throwing to our hitters, kind of get myself prepared or in the zone for the regular season.”