Barring any injury issues [knocks on wood], the top four spots in the Washington Nationals’ rotation are set, with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin, and Aníbal Sánchez returning after helping the club win the World Series last season.
As for the fifth spot, it’s a competition between Erick Fedde and Austin Voth, both of whom are expected to be part of the Opening Day roster, whatever role they fill.
And they’ll likely both get some starts before it’s done, even in a short 60-game campaign.
“I really liked the way Fedde threw the ball,” Davey Martinez told reporters on a Zoom call following Wednesday night’s sim game in Nationals Park, when asked about both starters’ work so far in Spring Training 2.0, and the battle for the fifth spot.
“Voth threw the ball well the other day as well. We don’t have to make that decision for a while.
“They’re both going to help us in some capacity so we’ll see when the time comes, but I like the way they’re both throwing right now.
“We’re going to build them up, we’ve still got some time, we’ll see what happens when that fifth starter’s spot comes.”
Pitching Coach Paul Menhart said much the same when he talked about the two top candidates for the fifth spot in the rotation, while noting there are other options too.
“It’s been an open tryout thus far,” Menhart explained, “with Erick Fedde and Austin Voth and some other guys down in Fredericksburg too, so it’s too soon to make any type of announcement. Both have been throwing great, both Voth and Fedde, so we’ll make that final decision when we need to.”
Voth, 28, finished the 2019 season with a 3.30 ERA, a 3.79 FIP, 13 walks (2.68 BB/9), 44 Ks, (9.07 K/9), and a .212/.287/.397 line against over 41 1⁄3 innings in eight starts for the Nats, with one appearance out of the bullpen.
Fedde, 27, made 21 appearances (and 12 starts) in 2019, in which he put up a 4.50 ERA, 5.34 FIP, 33 walks (3.81 BB/9), 41 strikeouts (4.73 K/9), and a .297/.369/.491 line against in 60 1⁄3 IP as a starter, with a .197/.286/.295 line against in 17 2⁄3 IP out of the bullpen.
They both worked hard throughout the layoff between Spring Training 1.0 and 2.0, trying to stay as sharp as possible for baseball’s return, knowing that they’d be back at it, trying their best to earn a spot on the Opening Day roster, whether it’s in the rotation or potentially in a long relief role.
“I’ve been preparing for this role like the whole offseason,” Voth said, “... down in Florida — 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.”
Fedde told reporters that in spite of the fact that thus far since returning to action, he’s only faced his teammates, he’s taking every outing seriously.
“You’ve got to take these very seriously,” Fedde said, “... as you would towards the end of Spring Training. Just viewing them as tune-ups. Tried to do as much work as I could during the break, so I’m viewing these as just the touch-ups to get ready to go into the season.”
While it will likely be one of the two, or likely both, filling out the back end of the rotation over the next two months-plus, as Menhart said, there are also a group of pitchers at the Nationals’ Alternate Training Site in Fredericksburg, Virginia who are part of the 60-Man Player Pool for the 2020 campaign, some of whom are likely to see action over the course of the season, so the club is doing everything they can to get them ready as well in case they’re needed at some point.
“Davey and I just talked about that,” Menhart said when he spoke with reporters Wednesday afternoon about having the players down in Fredericksburg mirror the schedule of those in D.C. so they’re available when/if they’re needed.
“We want them to not only be doing the same thing that we’re doing, but we also want them doing it at the same time.
“And that was something that — he brought that up today, I was like, you know what, that’s right.
“Because during the regular season, games are at the same time, so if they were to practice during the day, and heaven forbid somebody tested or had a temperature too high and couldn’t play and we needed to get somebody up here, and they had already worked out and done what they would normally do on any given day, but they did it at 12:00, as opposed to at 6:00, at least we would know prior to that that they hadn’t worked out and we’d be able to utilize them.
“They’re going to try to stay and mirror exactly what we’re doing up here to a certain degree, as best they can.”
Will we see Jake Irvin, who impressed Martinez with his work on the mound in Wednesday’s sim game? How about 2019 1st Round pick Jackson Rutledge? Or 2020 1st Rounder Cade Cavallo, who was added to the 60-Man Player Pool after Ryan Zimmerman, Joe Ross, Welington Castillo opted out of the upcoming season? Or maybe Ben Braymer, or Matt Cronin, or Seth Romero?
“We’re going to keep those people razor-sharp down there,” Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo explained when he spoke with reporters earlier this month, “with our great player development staff down there, and some really good players that you will see here in D.C. during the regular season.”