BALTIMORE - The top four in the Nationals’ rotation have been as good as advertised, maybe even better than advertised, so far this season. Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Aníbal Sánchez have combined to go 32-20 with a 3.16 ERA and 1.10 WHIP.
There are, however, five starters in a modern-day rotation. And those other starts count just as much as the rest. So it’s more than a bit troubling to note that the Nationals’ No. 5 starters (Jeremy Hellickson, Austin Voth, Erick Fedde and Kyle McGowin) have combined to go 4-4 with a 5.22 ERA and 1.54 WHIP in 19 starts this season.
For a team that dug itself into a huge early season hole and has been climbing out of it ever since, there are no wasted starts anymore. The Nationals need every pitcher who takes the mound to give them a chance to win.
So Tuesday night’s outing by Voth - one run in six innings to lead the Nats to an 8-1 win over the Orioles - was encouraging.
Encouraging enough to believe Voth can seize this No. 5 job and hold it?
“We’ll see,” manager Davey Martinez said. “He’s been up here and he’s pitched well and I like what I’m seeing. You see if he struggles for an inning or a few pitches, he has that poise and he gets right back into that rhythm again. And I kind of like that.”
Voth displayed that very trait during a harrowing bottom of the first Tuesday night in which he let three straight batters reach base without making contact, then pitched his way out of the jam and never gave in the rest of the night.
But this was still only Voth’s fourth major league start of the season, only the seventh of his career. He looked great in his 2019 debut against the Braves, then struggled against the Tigers and Royals before bouncing back against the Orioles. It’s still far too soon to know who he truly is as a big league pitcher.
The Nationals will get another look at another longstanding candidate for the job tonight when Fedde returns from Double-A Harrisburg to pitch the series finale at Camden Yards. Fedde was on a nice run earlier when he posted a 2.70 ERA in four starts, but then he faltered in his next two outings, walking eight batters in 9 2/3 total innings.
The right-hander will get another shot tonight, essentially filling the rotation spot that opened up when Scherzer went on the injured list with a mid-back strain. If things go as planned, Scherzer will return this weekend to face the Braves. Which means the Nationals will only need one of Voth or Fedde to stay and fill the final slot in the rotation.
With Hellickson on the 60-day injured list with a right shoulder injury, the job is there for Voth or Fedde to seize.
The Nationals just have to hope one of them finally does it.