WASHINGTON -- The Nationals never took Austin Voth out of the starting rotation. Even as he struggled in his first year in the full-time role -- sometimes exiting before getting through three innings -- manager Dave Martinez repeated he was not going to give up on the right-hander.
On Tuesday, nearly two months since his first start of the season on July 28, Voth earned his first win of 2020 by throwing a complete game in the Nationals’ 5-1 victory against the Phillies in Game 1 of a seven-inning doubleheader at Nationals Park. Washington won a Game 2 thriller, 8-7, in eight innings to sweep the twin bill.
“It was huge,” Voth said of the complete game. “I’ve never been able to do that. I feel like I’ve been chasing that for a while. … I’m ecstatic.”
Backed by a four-run third inning, Voth allowed just the one run on three hits, while striking out seven and walking one. He relied on his four-seam fastball, which maxed at 94.6 mph, for 62 percent of his deliveries.
“He was awesome,” Martinez said. “Really awesome.”
Voth landed 68 of his 105 pitches for strikes. He was aware that his pitch count was growing after the sixth, so he made sure to avoid Martinez and pitching coach Paul Menhart in hopes of returning to the mound for the seventh.
“I was flying by people, because I knew that I didn’t want anybody to talk to me,” Voth said with a smile. “I just wanted to go in the tunnel and focus on that next inning.”
Going deep into games has been a challenge for Voth since he edged out Erick Fedde for the fifth-starter job in Summer Camp. Voth began the year with consecutive five-inning outings. From there, he pitched four frames in each of his next two starts. But on Aug. 24, he allowed six runs in 3 2/3 innings against the Marlins, and in his following appearance, Aug. 30 at Boston, he exited after surrendering five runs in a career-low two innings.
So when Voth allowed three homers but struck out five and reached a season-high 88 pitches on Sept. 4 in Atlanta, he viewed his performance as "progress." On that day, he stopped getting wrapped up in his mechanics and focused solely on competing. The shift in mindset helped build him up toward his first victory three starts later.
“I feel like I was kind of falling behind early on in the games where I struggled, and I was trying to nitpick a little bit too much with the strike zone and just kind of place it here,” Voth said. “But today, and I felt like the last start, I was commanding the zone very well and forcing my pitches to where I wanted them to go and not worrying about the results.”
Following Voth’s win, Martinez looked back on the conversations they’d had over the season. There were times when Voth questioned his role on the team. It was in those talks that Martinez reminded Voth of where he believed he belonged -- right where he was on Tuesday afternoon against the Phillies.
“At one point, he thought we were going to put him in the bullpen,” Martinez said. “I told him, 'I'm not going to do that to you. You're our fifth starter. I appointed you the fifth starter, so you're going to go out there and you're going to start and you're going to pitch.'
“The last two outings have been what I knew that he can do. We saw that in him. He worked hard to get to where he's at now."