- The Washington Times - Monday, June 24, 2019

The bullpen has been the pitching question du jour of the Washington Nationals’ season, but there has been instability in the fifth starter spot as well.

So although the Nationals lost Sunday’s rubber match against the division rival Atlanta Braves, they also gained something: a good, hard look at Austin Voth.

Voth made his first major league start of 2019 and turned in a stellar performance, working six innings and allowing just four hits and two earned runs. He set a career high with seven strikeouts — twice fanning last year’s NL rookie of the year, Ronald Acuna Jr. — with a four-pitch arsenal of fastball, change-up, curveball and slider.

Manager Dave Martinez emphasized how impressed he was with Voth’s afternoon. Then came the news that Erick Fedde, May’s flavor of the month for the No. 5 role, was optioned to Triple-A Fresno after the game.

Add it up, and Voth may have put himself in the conversation for a more permanent job in Washington.

“I really liked what I saw, I really did,” Martinez said. “We’ll see where he fits in … Especially, like I said, in the sixth inning, he’s still throwing 94 miles an hour and looked very poised. So it was awesome.”

Voth, who turns 27 Wednesday, hadn’t pitched in nine days because he was briefly called up in the middle of last week for Washington’s doubleheader against the Phillies; MLB rules allow teams to carry a 26th man on the roster the day of a twin bill. But Voth didn’t pitch that day.

Despite the long gap, Voth said he felt great.

“Got a little tired in the fifth and sixth, but felt I did a pretty good job of keeping them off-balance. Definitely with my fastball, locating it up and down, changing eye level,” Voth said.

Voth’s two earned runs came on solo home runs from Josh Donaldson and Acuna. He didn’t let those faze him. Martinez pointed out that after Acuna’s homer in the sixth, Freddie Freeman doubled and advanced to third — but Voth got out of the inning. The pressure that deep into a game “didn’t seem to bother him much,” Martinez said.

Yan Gomes caught Voth for the first time ever Sunday — either in a game or in a practice situation.

“As much as I’ve seen (of Voth) was as much as you guys seen today,” Gomes said. “I got to see him from the side in spring training. I didn’t get to actually catch him.”

Gomes said Voth has “a lot of life” on his fastball (which touched 96 mph Sunday) and he isn’t afraid to use it.

“He was able to locate some really good heaters,” he said. “The big thing, when you get somebody newer or younger coming in, is nitpicking the zone. And he wasn’t. He was just being really aggressive and letting them take swings off him. He kept us in the ballgame.”

With Fedde moved to the minors for now, Voth likely will pitch again Saturday at the Detroit Tigers after the rest of the rotation takes their turns. Jeremy Hellickson is on the injured list with shoulder tendinitis, and he was not pitching well to begin with before moving to the IL.

In other words, Voth might get to return to a regular, five-day schedule again.

“I’m just happy for the opportunity, especially with the Nats,” Voth said. “They’re trying to win now. So any opportunity that you get, you definitely want to make the most of it.”

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