In his third season in the majors last summer, Austin Voth, 28, struggled with his mechanics, and decreased velocity, but pushed through 11 starts (in which he had a 6.34 ERA, a 6.11 FIP, 3.26 BB/9, 7.97 K/9, and a .281/.351/.571 line against in 49 2⁄3 innings pitched) and impressed his manager with his moxy.
“He struggled last year a little bit with his mechanics,” Davey Martinez told reporters when the fourth-year skipper spoke before the Grapefruit League opener this past Sunday.
“And we talked to him about that,” the skipper continued, “... getting back in his lower half, and he did that. He looks really good. He took away a few movements that we wanted him to do. His velo right now is a tick above what it was last year, so that’s encouraging.”
Martinez and Co. were hoping for more positive signs Monday afternoon when they sent Voth out to the mound for the home opener in Grapefruit League action.
“I just want him to go out there and relax,” the manager said.
“Obviously, he felt like his year last year wasn’t what he wanted it to be. But I was proud of him, because the kid never gave up.
“He took the ball every five days and he went out there and he pitched innings for us, which we needed, so this spring I’m just going to watch him go out there and just get back to the form that he was a couple years ago and go out there and compete.”
What’s the conversations like, with Voth (or Erick Fedde, or Joe Ross) when he has to explain to them that they’re once again battling for a spot at the back of the rotation, when all three have been fighting for a spot in the majors over the past few seasons.
“I think in this game you never take anything for granted,” the former big league outfielder turned coach and eventually manager said.
“I played for a very long time, and I was a starting outfielder, but I always came to Spring Training, in my mindset, ready to compete. Everybody wants to play every day, everybody wants the job. These guys, they want to start, so they know they got to compete. [Voth is] good about that. He knows what he wants to do. And he’s going to go out there and do the best to perform well, and that’s all we can ask.
“All I know is I got a tough task this Spring with so many good players, so I want them to put the pressure on me.”
Going into Monday afternoon’s game, Martinez said he’d liked what he’d seen from Voth early in Spring Training.
“He’s thrown the ball well so far in camp. He’s worked a lot on his mechanics and honed in on his mechanics this winter,” the Nats’ skipper said.
“And he looks good, so get him out there in a real game, I’m curious to see where he’s at.
“He’s throwing the ball well, he’s had some good live BPs, he’s keeping the ball down.
“I know he’s talked about perfecting his changeup a little bit, so I just want him to go out there, the biggest thing for me, like I said early on, is hone in on his mechanics and get him to throw strikes, that’s important for myself, that’s important for [Nationals’ pitching coach Jim] Hickey.
“We talked about it his morning, about the focus on getting ahead of hitters as opposed to getting behind hitters. There’s a big difference in numbers when you’re actually ahead of a hitter or you fall behind a hitter.
“We want our pitchers to understand we want to get ahead and work ahead always.”
Voth retired the Astros in order in the top of the first, and... actually that was it for the right-hander in a relatively brief, seven-pitch outing in his 2021 Grapefruit League debut.
“Felt strong. Felt good,” Voth said once he was done for the day.
“Threw a little extra amount of pitches in the pen just to — I didn’t know if I was going one or two innings, so I just wanted to prepare. But yeah, I felt great.”
“Voth came in, he had seven pitches, but he threw basically a first inning in the bullpen before he came in, instead of doing it on the back end,” his manager explained.
“That’s something that Hickey brought over and I like it. So he came in and threw a bunch of pitches before he came in and actually pitched in that inning, so he had already built up his pitch count, and he got in, faced hitters, got quick outs, threw seven pitches, he was good to go. So that’s kind of nice.”
Voth talked about some of the things he tinkered with over the winter that he tried to take in to his first competitive outing this spring.
“Two things I’ve been working on that have definitely helped me become more confident with my mechanics and made me feel strong on the mound,” Voth said.
“One, just staying taller. Last year my back side, my right leg was collapsing a lot, so me staying taller will help with that, and then my glove side was dipping down too, which was making me kind of pull off a lot more than I need to, so just keeping my arm slot higher and standing taller and keeping a better posture upright, will help make me more powerful on the mound.”
Did he feel like the changes affected his command and velocity?
“Both of them,” he said. “Today I could even tell, like a couple of my fastballs when I let it loose, I got a lot of that — not extra velo, but zip on my fastball, I could tell.
“Couldn’t really tell too much because I threw seven pitches, but we’ll find out later in camp.”