The first time he hit 96-97 MPH with his four-seamer in the ninth inning of the Nationals’ May 1st game against the Miami Marlins in the nation’s capital, Austin Voth caught his manager’s attention.
Voth kept on throwing it up there in the mid-to-high 90s too, walking the first batter in that inning before striking out the next three he faced in the 20-pitch, 13-strike appearance out of the bullpen.
“The first one surprised, me, and then when he sustained it, I thought it was pretty good,” Davey Martinez told reporters after a 7-2 win that day.
“I think that’s him actually getting accustomed to his role, and you might see that. He knows he’s out there, he’s got one inning, he just let it eat there, it was good to see.”
Through eight appearances and 10 2⁄3 IP this season, Voth, who made the club’s Opening Day roster a reliever, after fighting for the fifth spot in the rotation, has posted a 1.69 ERA, five walks, 13 Ks, and a .216/.326/.270 line against.
It’s a role he’s filled before, but after starting in 21 of his first 24 games in the majors before this season, Voth is embracing his role in the bullpen in D.C.
His fastball is ticking up, with an average of 93.9 MPH so far, up from 92.0 last season, and while he’s still throwing an occasional cutter or splitter, he’s mostly focusing on his fastball and curve, which he’s thrown 73.7% and 19.1% of the time early in 2021.
Opposing hitters have a .192 AVG on his fastball, down from .330 last season, and a .143 AVG on his curve, down from .167.
Relief work seems to suit the 28-year-old 2013 5th Round pick.
“Still trying to get like a rhythm down in the bullpen when I get my name called to start warming up,” Voth said in a pregame Zoom call with reporters on Wednesday afternoon.
But he’s getting used to it, though it’s taking some time.
“Lately I’ve been kind warming up for too long, trying to save the bullets a little bit, but eventually I’ll kind of get that down,” Voth explained.
He likes how his stuff is playing out of the ‘pen.
“The one inning that I threw in the ninth inning the other day I knew I only had three outs to get, so I just went out there and kind of maxed out. It was a warm day, I felt good, so that’s kind of the result.”
Don’t let Voth’s quiet demeanor fool you, his manager, said, after the soft-spoken native of Redmond, Washington spoke with the D.C. press corps. He’s got some fight in him.
“He comes [off] to you as being laid back, but he’s very competitive. And you can see — it’s almost like a switch that turns on when he’s out on the mound,” Martinez said.
“He’s been — I put him in different roles. The other day he came out and pitched one inning, yesterday he came out and pitched one inning and he threw the ball really well.
“We want to continue to see him do that. But he’s been great. He’s a guy where you just ask him to do something and he’s willing to do it for the ballclub. So it’s awesome to have him around, and like I said, he’s throwing the ball with conviction now and it’s been really good for him.”
“If you only have one inning and you’re throwing as hard as you can or you’re giving it all you’ve got,” Voth said of the adjustments he’s made in his new role after starting over the last few seasons.
“I mean, you know that you’ve only got one inning and you’re probably going to throw probably a max of like 30 pitches, and when you’re starting you kind of have to like — I don’t know — it’s like you have up to 100 pitches, and you’re kind of like approaching batters differently, trying to set guys up for their first at bat and then their second or third, and you’re trying to figure out what you threw their first pitch in their first at bat, and switch things around. I kind of like the mentality of just going out there and doing my thing and maxing out and seeing how things go, but definitely pitching later in games, that’s fun for me too.”
Hearing the roar of the crowd like he did during that ninth inning the other day, is sort of different, Voth said.
“It’s nice with the fans too. You get the fans back and you come running into the game, onto the mound, and it’s lots of fun, I’m starting to really enjoy it.”
“At this point, I’m just — every time my name gets called I want to be prepared. I know that this is what it’s going to have to be for right now, but yeah, I could definitely grow into this role. I could see myself doing this.”
“Voth has always been a very quiet guy,” teammate Erick Fedde said, “but just seeing him out there right now it’s obvious that he’s exuding confidence, and just I mean, I saw him throw 97 the other day, and I remember seeing that and being like, ‘Dang, he’s bringing it.’ And it’s awesome to see him be successful. I know he’s had lots of starts in his career, and then he was given this task to help the team out in the pen and just kind of showed that he’s able to do whatever they need of him. And to see him be successful is awesome. I came up with him throughout my career, and I’m always rooting for him to be successful.”