Nothing is official yet, of course, and there's still time for events to change, but at the moment it doesn't appear Austin Voth will be in the Nationals season-opening rotation. With Joe Ross looking healthy and comfortable pitching again after opting out of the 2020 campaign, the one job up for grabs this spring is close to being locked up.
What, then, is to become of Voth? That's a question club officials must answer in the next week before camp ends and the team heads north.
If they want Voth to remain available as a replacement starter should the need arise, they would need to send him to Triple-A to open the season in Rochester's rotation. (Or, with the start of the minor league season delayed, they would send him to the planned alternate training site in Fredericksburg.)
So the alternative could be to keep Voth on the opening day roster and put him in their bullpen as a long reliever. That may be the likeliest destination for Voth (or Erick Fedde, also competing for a starting job but still with one more option year to his name) but until such a decision is made, the Nationals want all of them to keep a starter's workload.
"I think for right now we need to stretch them out," manager Davey Martinez said this afternoon during a Zoom session with reporters. "We still got a couple weeks before the season starts. We can make that decision, probably the last five or six days, if it comes to a decision that we're going to go with somebody. But it's important right now ... like I said, a freaky thing could happen. Say (Stephen) Strasburg wouldn't come back from that calf strain. We want to make sure we have these guys stretched out, as well."
So it was that Voth was given a chance to start tonight against the Marlins. And he made the most of the opportunity, tossing four scoreless innings while building up his pitch count to 68 in a game the Nationals went on to win 7-4.
It was easily the most effective of Voth's five outings this spring, even if it was far from perfect. (He struck out five but walked three.) But if nothing else, it may have left a more positive taste in the decision-makers' mouths for when they have to make those decision in the near future.
"His (velocity) was good. He pumped strikes early in the count," Martinez said. "I just want him to start finishing hitters on three or four pitches. That's the goal. He gets ahead of hitters, and the next thing you know it's 2-2, 3-2. We want to see him go out and attack the strike zone when he's ahead and try to finish hitters earlier in counts. But overall he threw up zeros. He threw the ball well. I was very happy that his velo was up at 94 again. That's a good sign."
Voth, for his part, is feeling confident.
"I feel good," he said. "I feel like I've put myself in a position to either be the fifth starter or go into the bullpen, or whatever they need me to be."
With Strasburg set to return from his minor calf strain and Jon Lester having already returned from his parathyroid surgery, there may not be another start to give Voth in the waning days of camp.
If he is destined for a bullpen role, would Voth want to try pitching in shorter bursts on shorter rest before the season begins?
"I mean, yeah, we'll have to test it out," he said. "I've never done anything like that. Trial by fire, I guess."
At this point, that might be the only trial the Nationals have for Voth.