Nats' battle to be fifth starter down to two

July 10th, 2020

and are no strangers to Nationals manager Dave Martinez. Between the two righties, they have thrown just under 200 innings and made 36 starts combined for Washington.

As Martinez assesses both pitchers for the fifth-starter spot, the criteria for whom he selects has a lot to do with the club's Opening Day being less than two weeks away, on July 23. Without a month-plus Spring Training schedule to evaluate his options, Martinez has to build his roster based on who checks boxes in the “now,” not necessarily the future.

“Right now, because we’re in a definitely different time, [it’s] who’s going to be ready,” Martinez said.

Fedde and Voth had been in the running for the fifth starter spot with Joe Ross, with whom they previously had shared the role. While the team had not awarded the job during Spring Training, Ross emerged as a strong contender to join Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Aníbal Sánchez in the rotation. Ross elected not to play this season, and the Nats now have a two-man summer camp competition on their hands.

“With Joe opting out, we have two guys that I really think can fill the void in Voth and Fedde,” Martinez said. “We’ll see how this thing ends up, but I think they’re both very good and I think they’re both ready. They learned a lot over the past year, so we’ll see what happens.”

Fedde, 27, is the more tenured of the two pitchers at the Major League level. Chosen by Washington in the first round of the 2014 Draft, he is entering his fourth year with the franchise. Last season, Fedde went 4-2 with a 4.48 ERA over 60 1/3 innings in 12 games as a starter. Opponents hit .297 against him, and he recorded 4.6 strikeouts/nine innings (SO/9). As a reliever, Fedde posted a 4.58 ERA over 17 2/3 innings in nine games. He held opponents to a .197 batting average and had a 5.1 SO/9 rate.

Voth has been in the Nats system since he was selected by the organization in the fifth round of the 2013 Draft. The 28-year-old is entering his third season at the Major League level. Last year, eight of his nine appearances were in the starting role, in which he went 2-1 with a 3.48 ERA in 41 1/3 innings. Opposing batters hit .212, and he recorded an 8.7 SO/9 ratio. In Voth’s lone relief appearance, he held the nine batters he faced to a .222 average over 2 1/3 frames, with a 0.00 ERA. That computes to 15.4 K’s per nine innings.

Most recently, both players made two starts and one appearance out of the bullpen in Spring Training. Fedde went 0-0 with a 2.45 ERA in 7 1/3 innings; Voth was 1-0 with a 1.29 ERA in seven frames.

Martinez will consider what he has seen from the pitchers in the past, but there are specifics he’s eyeing during Summer Camp as they begin ramping up. Fedde competed in a sim game on Friday after a bout of pink eye and “threw the ball really well,” according to Martinez. Voth is slated to pitch in the coming days.

“I’m just watching their mechanics,” Martinez said. “I’m watching consistency, strike throwing. We talked a lot with our younger guys, especially, about getting ahead of hitters, throwing strike one all the time, things of that nature.”

This isn’t a winner-take-all situation, either. Whoever does not get named the fifth starter will still have plenty of innings to fill. Depth is key for the Nationals, whose pitchers threw 153 innings last postseason.

“I want to see who’s going to be ready,” Martinez said, “And who’s more apt to actually be able to pitch out of the bullpen if we need them, because we’re definitely going to need a long man.”