Learn his name: Voth may start for Nats

The Washington Post Sunday - - BASEBALL - BY JORGE CASTILLO jorge.castillo@wash­post.com

port st. lucie, fla. — Let’s start this Austin Voth in­tro­duc­tion by get­ting some­thing out of the way: His last name is pro­nounced Voth like both. Not Voth like sloth. It’s a prob­lem for most peo­ple Voth meets.

“It took a full pro year for all my coaches to get my name,” Voth said.

It’s taken a lot longer, longer than maybe he an­tic­i­pated, for the 24-year-old Voth to se­cure a chance at crack­ing the Na­tion­als’ ros­ter and mak­ing his ma­jor league de­but. While Lucas Gi­olito, Rey­naldo Lopez and A.J. Cole were get­ting shut­tled be­tween the mi­nors and the bigs last sea­son, Voth was left un­touched with Class AAA Syra­cuse, adding an­other suc­cess­ful sea­son to his rise through the farm sys­tem. He fol­lowed a 2.92 ERA in 28 out­ings (27 starts) with Class AA Harrisburg in 2015 with a 3.15 ERA in 27 ap­pear­ances (25 starts) for Syra­cuse. But the call from Wash­ing­ton never came.

“I can’t re­ally dwell on that,” said the re­laxed Voth, a fifthround pick out of the Univer­sity of Wash­ing­ton in 2013. “All you can re­ally do is go out and com­pete and do your best, and then if it hap­pens, it hap­pens.”

Reach­ing the 40-man ros­ter mile­stone hap­pened for Voth in Novem­ber, and he is in his sec­ond ma­jor league camp this spring. He pitched in his third game Satur­day, en­ter­ing in the sixth in­ning of the Na­tion­als’ 6-0 vic­tory over the New York Mets to log 12/3 frames. He be­gan his out­ing by al­low­ing hits to two of his first three bat­ters but danced out of the jam by in­duc­ing a pop-up from Neil Walker, strik­ing out Jay Bruce look­ing and strik­ing out Lucas Duda swing­ing. He added an­other strike­out in the sev­enth be­fore Jeremy Guthrie re­placed him.

Voth fol­lowed Vance Wor­ley and Erick Fedde, who tossed three in­nings in the start, his first in a Na­tion­als uni­form in a game of any sort, and is the top-ranked pitch­ing prospect in the or­ga­ni­za­tion. While Voth doesn’t draw nearly the same hype, he could com­pete for a spot in the start­ing ro­ta­tion on a few ma­jor league clubs. With the Na­tion­als, he must set­tle for bat­tling with Fedde and Cole for the first spot fol­low­ing the team’s es­tab­lished quin­tet. That could mean a spot on the Open­ing Day ros­ter if Max Scherzer, whose spring has been dis­rupted by a stress frac­ture in his right ring finger, isn’t ready.

“All you can do is project be­cause pro­jec­tions can be wrong,” Na­tion­als Man­ager Dusty Baker said. “Be­cause it doesn’t show how much heart you have, how much in­tel­lect you have for pitch­ing.”

Fedde hasn’t reached Class AAA yet, mak­ing his de­but like­lier for later in the sea­son, which leaves Voth and Cole as the two can­di­dates for the be­gin­ning of the cam­paign if an­other starter is re­quired. That wasn’t the case a few months ago, be­fore the Na­tion­als shipped Lopez and Gi­olito, the two pitch­ers seem­ingly on the ro­ta­tion’s doorstep, to the Chicago White Sox for out­fielder Adam Ea­ton.

“I was a lit­tle sur­prised,” Voth said. “I thought Gi­olito was go­ing to be the fu­ture for the Na­tion­als. I mean, I thought the way they treated him that he was go­ing to be the face of the fran­chise com­ing up. I thought I would have a bet­ter chance of get­ting traded than Gi­olito. But things work out dif­fer­ently than you as­sume.”

Un­like Gi­olito — and later Lopez — Voth has never been con­sid­ered a top prospect. He doesn’t throw the ball hard (his fast­ball usu­ally sits at 88 mph to 92 mph), and nasty isn’t used to de­scribe his stuff. But he’s ef­fec­tive be­cause, Voth said, he hides the ball well, his fast­ball cuts, and he usu­ally has good com­mand. Those qual­i­ties don’t at­tract buzz. For com­par­i­son sake, he’s a bit like Tan­ner Roark.

“A lit­tle less velo,” Voth said with a chuckle.

Like a lot of young start­ing pitch­ers, one of Voth’s chief pri­or­i­ties is to im­prove his change-up. He tried a few dif­fer­ent grips be­fore set­tling on an off­set cir­cle change-up Na­tion­als mi­nor league pitch­ing co­or­di­na­tor Paul Men­hart taught him last sea­son. He used the pitch more and more as last sea­son pro­gressed, he said, jump­ing from seven to 10 change-ups per game to about 15 by the end. He then threw up to 20 change-ups in the Ari­zona Fall League.

“I’ve al­ways had the changeup,” Voth said, “but it’s never been that good.”

The goal with the pitch is to bet­ter com­ple­ment his fast­ball and curve­ball, not to rely solely on those pitches, which be­comes in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult each time through a lineup. If he can do it, the chances of get­ting his named called — Voth like both — in the ma­jors this sea­son only will grow.

TONI L. SANDYS/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Right-han­der Austin Voth — his last name is pro­nounced like “both” — may be in the Nats’ ro­ta­tion.

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