Over the past two seasons, Washington Nationals right-hander Austin Voth has switched between a starter and a reliever, getting a feel for the differences between the roles.
“Been working toward this,” Voth, 29, said in a recent interview. “Been working to get here and stay here for a while.”
The time spent adjusting to this new role was put on pause after Voth took a 90-mph fastball to the face while batting in Philadelphia last month during his only start of the season. He posted a photo on social media after his operation to provide an update on his injury: his nose bandaged up and his left eye swollen shut. He was placed on the 10-day injured list and emerged with his sense of humor intact.
“I mean, my nose is still straight. For the most part, yeah. I’m still pretty good looking, I feel like,” Voth said after coming off the injured list last month.
Then it was back to getting used to life in the bullpen. Veteran reliever Daniel Hudson, 34, has been able to see Voth’s progress, saying it has been impressive how Voth has been able to switch his mind-set to better fit his new job description.
“It’s the kind of mentality you kind of have to turn into, just knowing that these are my three [batters], these are my four guys, whatever,” Hudson said. “I’m going to go after them with my A-plus [stuff], you know, and not really try to feel my way through it.”
Since returning from the broken nose, Voth has made 11 relief appearances. He wasn’t charged with any runs in nine of them, but two rough outings give him a 5.06 ERA in that span, well above his season ERA of 3.35.
Voth isn’t the only pitcher in Washington’s bullpen that has had to get used to a starter-to-reliever switch. While in the minor leagues, Kyle Finnegan made the same transition.
“Starting, you kind of have the whole game to think about. Relieving, it’s like you let it go one pitch at a time,” Finnegan said. “You can put everything you got into every pitch, and I think that showed in [Voth’s] stuff.”
Washington’s pitching staff has been besieged by injuries. Seven more pitchers have landed on the injured list since Voth’s broken nose, including Kyle McGowin and Joe Ross, both of whom were placed on the IL shortly before the all-star break. The Nationals return from the break with a home game against the San Diego Padres on Friday night.
Voth said he was already back in baseball mode on the fourth day after his injury. He started playing catch, then threw a few bullpen sessions and played in a simulated game before being reinstated on June 18 — 12 days after his nose was broken.
Getting put on the injured list can be difficult, but Hudson said Voth handled it well. With all the unexpected twists that have been thrown his way in the first half of the season, Voth has several explanations for his ability to stay consistent.
“Probably a combination of things. You know, just me getting ahead of guys and doing a decent job and not walking guys,” Voth said. “And then our defense has been going great, so it’s always nice when they’re making plays behind me.”
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