Austin Voth has excelled in a different role early this season, transitioning to bullpen work full-time after he moved back and forth the last few seasons and battled for the fifth spot this spring, but didn’t make Washington’s five-man, Opening Day rotation.
Through 11 games and 15 2⁄3 innings pitched, heading into this weekend’s three-game set in Arizona, the Nationals’ 28-year-old, 2013 fifth round pick has put up a 1.15 ERA, a 4.54 FIP, eight walks (4.60 BB/9), and 17 Ks (9.77 K/9), while holding opposing hitters to a combined .176/.300/.235 line.
Voth’s fastball is playing up (94 MPH average, up from 92 in 2020, and 92.7 in 2019), and it’s not getting hit nearly as hard (.182 BAA, down from .330 last season). He’s throwing it about 10% more than he did in 2019 (71.7% before Friday’s game, up from 61% ), and is basically a two-pitch pitcher, mixing in his curve, 19.1%, with an occasional cutter and split-finger in the mix.
Daniel Hudson, who made the transition to relief work following back-to-back Tommy John surgeries back in 2012-13, told reporters in a Zoom call on Friday night, that he’s liked what he’s seen from Voth.
“I’ve made this comment a couple times,” the 34-year-old, 12-year veteran said, “about the way — just to the guys — about how Voth has looked in the bullpen so far and how good a job he’s done. And it seems like he’s just got this different mindset of, ‘I’m just going to go out there and attack these guys with my best stuff.’
“And it takes a little while —- it took me a little while once I went from — transitioned from being a starter to a reliever to, ‘I can’t feel my way through this lineup. These are my three guys, I got to go at them with my best stuff.’ And it’s really been impressive to watch him and the way he’s transitioned to a bullpen role and I feel like that’s a key for me as well.
“I know what I do best, personally, and hopefully it matches up with maybe a cold spot in a hitter’s hot zone, you know, but for the most part I’m going to go at you with my best stuff and be aggressive in the strike zone, especially early in the count.”
Voth has been paying attention to what the other relievers do to get ready during and in-between games, and picking up what he can to help with the transition.
“I watch Huddy a lot,” Voth said earlier this week. “He throws a bullpen like twice a week and I feel like I try to watch him throw those bullpens, and see what he’s doing to prepare for each time he’s on the mound, and then when he gets his name called to go in the game, like I’m watching him throw, how he’s approaching guys, because he’s got definitely life on his fastball and he likes to throw up in the zone like I do, try and figure out how he’s going to approach a lefty or a righty or whatnot. Just watching them throw and seeing what they’re doing on the mound before they go in the game is probably the biggest thing for me.”
Hudson’s watching Voth too.
“He throws some impressive pregame bullpens,” Hudson said. “The catcher’s mitt does not move at all, it’s fun to watch. It’s pretty cool.”
But it’s not easy transition to relief work, and the veteran knows how difficult a move Voth is making.
It took Hudson some time to get comfortable and find what’s worked for him, and for him to figure out how to approach a bullpen role.
“When I was a starter — it’s a totally different ballgame now from when I was a starter ten years go,” Hudson explained, “but as a bullpen guy you can’t feel your way through those three outs. I got a lead I’ve got to protect in three outs, maybe 4-5, I can’t feel my way through these at bats, I have to attack these guys. And it’s a mindset that takes a little while, because when I was a starter anyways, you could work the first time through the lineup with throwing 90% fastballs. And you just can’t do that anymore these days, especially late in the ballgames, these guys are ready to jump on you from the get-go and mistakes are home runs nowadays, they’re not singles, they don’t get poked through the right side anymore, they get driven far, and so to be able to transition to a bullpen role, and be on attack from pitch one is really important and Austin’s really done a really good job with that.”
“He’s — like Huddy said the ability to attack the strike zone is awesome for Austin,” manager Davey Martinez said in his pregame Zoom call with reporters last night, when he was asked about the mutual admiration between Hudson and Voth.
“[Voth has] done well,” Martinez continued.
“Throwing strike one, throwing both sides of the plate, elevating fastballs when he needs to.
“I mean, he’s done that a lot. I know Huddy has been talking to him a lot about pitching out of the bullpen, and I’ve spoke to him about pitching in high-leverage situations, and he has responded to that too as well. So he’s done really well.
“[Voth is] a big part of our bullpen, regardless of how we use him, he understands his role.
“He might get four outs, we might need him for two innings, he might come in a situation where we’re going to need him to just get a big out.
“He feels like he’s ready for it, he understands the role now, and he’s done well in it.”
Having a mentor like Hudson to help guide him through the move from starting to relieving is an invaluable asset.
“It’s great,” Martinez said.
“When you have a teammate that’s willing to help you, and we have a lot of those here, and knowing that Daniel went through the same thing, that’s good to pick his brain about what to expect and how to go about your daily routine out there.”
Hudson’s transitioned again this season, after two years of closing out games in the nation’s capital along with Sean Doolittle.
He’s back in an eighth-inning role, setting up for Brad Hand, who signed on as a free agent this winter to serve as the Nationals’ closer, which is likely fine with Hudson, who has, in the past, admitted to not loving closing out games.
“Yeah. I love it,” he said of pitching almost exclusively in the eighth inning thus far this year.
“I’ve always felt like I’ve done pretty well in that role. I don’t know if you want to call it ‘fireman’ or ‘jam-guy’, coming in if there’s people on base, and really trying to take pride in stranding those baserunners, which, getting weak contact and missing bats is the name of the game when it comes to that. I really enjoy that kind of challenge to come in with runners on and try to get out of it.”
Hudson has excelled in the role early this season, with a 1.59 ERA, a 2.95 FIP, four walks (3.18 BB/9), 13 strikeouts (10.32 K/9), and .105/.190/.263 line against in 12 games and 11 1⁄3 IP.
What are the keys to his success so far?
“I think it’s putting myself in good counts really,” Hudson said. “For the most part, I could be wrong, but I feel like I’m working ahead for the most part, and being able to execute pitches when I’m ahead in the count and getting myself in leverage counts for me is huge. I’m just trying to attack the zone and get some contact and get out there as quick as possible. So, for me to work ahead in the count is really important I feel like.”