Going into Spring Training, Austin Voth was in the running for the fifth spot in Washington’s 2021 rotation, but he made the Nationals’ Opening Day roster in the bullpen, as a long man, and over the first three months this season, he’s gradually moved into some higher-leverage situations, with injuries opening up new opportunities for the Nats’ recently-turned 29-year-old, 2013 5th Round pick.
“He went from a fifth starter candidate, to actually a long-man, to being used in certain situations, all of a sudden now being used in high-leverage situations in the seventh and eighth innings,” Davey Martinez said a day after turning to Voth with a 4-2 lead over the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday night in the nation’s capital.
The fourth-year skipper said he’s made all the decisions on Voth’s usage in consultation with the reliever and Nationals’ pitching coach Jim Hickey.
“This was based on conversations. Every time I see him go out there, he’s building up more and more confidence, he’s throwing the ball really well, but then again, here’s another guy that he’s taken on such a load right now that we have to be careful. I’ve used him for two innings, one inning, so we have to be smart with him as well, because this is a new thing for him, but he’s taking the ball and he’s running with it right now, and he’s another guy where — at the end of the game yesterday he came in my office and he said, ‘Hey, I’m good to go, I feel good.’
“And I said, ‘Hey, we’ll talk tomorrow after you come in and throw,’ because he’s been pitching a lot, but kudos to him, like I said, we talked a lot, I talked about how he’s going to be used and every time a situation rolls around where I think I’m going to need him in a different situation, I make sure I talk to him about it and I want to get some feedback and he’s been understanding and he’s been great.”
Through 25 games, one start, and 36 innings pitched this season, Voth has a 2.75 ERA, a 4.12 FIP, 13 walks (3.25 BB/9), 36 Ks (9.00 K/9), and a .210/.290/.371 line against, with his 47.1% ground ball percentage the highest of his career, and his 1.25 HR/9 down from 2.54 over 11 starts and 49 2⁄3 IP in 2020’s 60-game campaign.
[ed. note - “He’s also bounced back well after getting hit in the face by a pitch in a rare at bat in Philadelphia. We had to fit this note in somewhere and couldn’t really find a good spot, so shoehorning it in here.”]
As Martinez noted, Voth’s velo has ticked up as well, from 92 MPH average in 2020 to 94 so far in 2021, since he’s not holding back at all in relief appearances, and hitters have a .254 AVG on it, down from .330 last season.
“His velo has been good, but obviously he’s got a really good curveball, and his cutter. He developed a cutter,” Martinez said.
“He talked to Hickey about it, he wanted to throw it and his cutter has been really effective.
“But he’s throwing the ball well, he’s spotting his fastball, and he’s executing his breaking balls at the right time and throwing it really well.”
“He’s another guy, when he attacks the strike zone,” the manager continued. “He’s really effective, and when his curveball is working the way it’s been working, he’s tough, he’s a tough guy for hitters to match up with because he can do both, he can elevate, he can throw the ball down and away, he has a cutter and he has a curveball.”
Voth was throwing his four-seam fastball 62.6% of the time going into play on Wednesday, with his curve his main option (23.9%), the cutter (13%), and split finger (0.5%).
He talked about adding the cutter to the mix earlier this season, as he adjusted to the ‘pen.
“Every once in a while, I’ve been throwing it more to lefties,” Voth said in late May, though at this point he’s now thrown it to right-handers more, with a combined .048 BAA on it. “I feel like that’s going to be a big pitch for me down the road just to kind of get the hitters — if I’m throwing fastball all the time and then I don’t have anything like a changeup to get them off-balance.
“The only thing I can usually have is a cutter in on their hands to make them uncomfortable, so that’s kind of the route that I’ve been taking lately.”
He also talked about leaning on two pitches while working out of the bullpen, while working his cutter into the mix.
“I mean, I’ve been throwing [the cutter] a lot in a throwing program,” he explained, “and it’s one of the pitches that I definitely want to use, it tends to be a pitch that it’s kind of tossed aside at times just because I love to throw a fastball and curveball, and it’s been so effective. But every once in a while when I get a hitter that can hit the fastball well and then has a swing that is a low-ball hitter, maybe kind of switch it up, and throw a cutter in on their hands just to have another pitch that they can see.”
“Right now I’ve just been throwing fastball/curveball,” Voth added, “and then a cutter/slider is something I’ve used in the past and it’s something that I know that — I have two good pitches, but why not try to have three? Why not try for three? Three is better than two, so just test it out.”
The biggest adjustment, outside of changing up his repertoire, Voth’s manager said, was just getting used to the life of a bullpen arm.
“It’s honestly for him, it’s the up/downs, we got to be careful about how we get him up, get him down, because he’s really not used to it,” Martinez said.
“He’s always used to getting up and pitching. So we got to keep an eye on all that stuff with him and talk to him about it, and it’s something new for him, but he’s making adjustments.”