Another Voth start, another loss for reeling Nats (updated)

Major League Baseball games are not supposed to be quite so predictable. But when you put Austin Voth on the mound against a tough Braves lineup, in the opener of a doubleheader in Atlanta 24 hours after the bullpen was burned up in an extra-inning game in Philadelphia, and then pull Juan Soto out of a Nationals lineup that simply can't afford to lose its best hitter right now, what could Davey Martinez reasonably have expected?

The ensuing result at Truist Park - a 7-1 loss to kick off this 14-inning doubleheader - could have been foreseen from any and all vantage points, near and far.

Thumbnail image for Voth-Throws-Blue-Sidebar.jpgVoth was roughed up once again, especially when he had to face the Atlanta lineup a second and third time. The right-hander served up three home runs, two to Ronald Acuña Jr., in 4 2/3 innings before Martinez finally pulled him. He's now the not-so-proud owner of an 0-5 record, 8.26 ERA and 1.800 WHIP in seven starts, which on average have lasted four innings.

"Progress," Voth said when asked in his Zoom session with reporters how he would assess this outing. "It's definitely not what I want. But today I wanted to go out there and throw out mechanics and just compete. And I felt like I did that. ... I gave it my all today. Definitely not the end result that I wanted. But I think I'm slowly getting there."

It may have represented progress in Voth's mind, but it still left the Nationals staring at yet another early deficit. And with an already ice-cold lineup finding out 30 minutes before first pitch that Soto had been scratched with a sore left elbow, there was no hint of a possible big offensive day and perhaps a competitive slugfest.

No, there's very little hope of anything positive right now for this team, which has fallen to 12-24 and has lost seven in a row during a road trip that still includes three more games against the division-leading Braves this weekend.

Martinez has spent hours trying to figure out how to help Voth through his disastrous start to the season, and the Nationals manager thought he finally came away with something after a recent look at the stats and video: Voth needed to rely on his fastball more. Even though his velocity has been down, the right-hander's success last year came when he trusted his fastball and didn't try to get away with his lesser, off-speed pitches.

So Voth set out today to make the change, and he did. Twenty-five of his 34 pitches through his first two innings were fastballs, and he did enjoy some modest success in the process. The problems came when he tried to sneak curveballs past some of the Braves' best hitters at the top of their lineup.

Voth got ahead of Acuña 1-2 to open his afternoon, then went to his curveball in search of his first out. No dice. Though Acuña slammed his bat to the ground thinking he got under the pitch and flied out to center, the ball kept carrying and cleared the wall, a surprise 411-foot homer to give the Braves the early lead.

"I thought he hit it pretty well, high," Voth said. "I didn't think it had the distance. I was kind of shocked when it went out."

Voth made it through the rest of the Atlanta lineup the first time with no more damage, but then he had to face them all again, most notably the fearsome top half of that lineup. He got squeezed by Joe West while issuing a leadoff walk to Acuña, then hung a curveball to Dansby Swanson and watched the No. 2 hitter belt it to left-center for a 3-0 lead.

By the time Acuña came up to bat a third time with two outs and a man in scoring position, it seemed a logical moment for Martinez to take the ball from his starter and trust someone else to take over. But under the current circumstances - Thursday's long game in Philadelphia, another game still to come tonight - the manager felt he couldn't afford to go to the bullpen so early.

So Voth stayed in to face Acuña again, and the result felt awfully predictable. Acuña crushed a 2-1 cutter to center, and this time he had no doubt he hit it more than enough to clear the fence for his second homer of the afternoon.

At that point, with the Nationals lineup unable to do much against Tommy Milone or the Braves bullpen and another game still on tap tonight, Martinez made the conscious decision to just leave Voth out there until he ran out of pitches.

That moment finally came with two outs in the fifth, a man on second and the Nats trailing 5-1. Martinez made the walk to the mound, Voth walked back to the dugout and the latest subpar outing by the club's No. 5 starter was over. The result was no better than any of the previous seven, but at this point he's looking to find any positive developments to cling to.

"I've had so many people come up to me and try to help me and tell me: 'You need to do this. You need to do this,'" Voth said. "So I've been focusing on those things. But I can't focus on everything on the mound at once. I have to focus on just basically hitting my spots and competing while I'm on the mound. I can't just think about everything. So it became something where I just wanted to go out there and just focus on one thing, which was throwing strikes. And that's what I did."

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