When it comes to the Nationals’ rotation, this much is a near certainty: If healthy, it should be among the game’s premier starting staffs in 2020. That was the case last year when Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez combined for 123 regular-season starts of high-end production to help the team to a playoff berth.
Those four were also important contributors during the Nationals’ first-ever run to a World Series championship in the fall, and all of them are set to reprise their roles in the club’s staff this season.
The last position in the starting five is up for grabs, though, and it’s a three-way battle to win the spot. Two of those players are out of minor-league options, meaning one of the runners-up could end up in a different organization soon if he doesn’t at least land in the Nationals’ bullpen. Here’s a look at the contenders…
- Joe Ross, RHP (out of options): Ross delivered terrific results as a member of the Nationals’ rotation from 2015-16, but injuries helped cut him down in the ensuing two seasons. He did amass 64 innings last regular season, though most of that work came from the bullpen, and Ross wound up with an unspectacular 5.48 ERA/4.59 FIP. However, as MLBTR’s TC Zencka pointed out over the weekend, Ross was far more impressive in his nine starts than during his 18 relief appearances. Despite just 7.66 K/9 against 4.43 BB/9 in a starting role, the 26-year-old pitched to a stingy 3.02 ERA (with a solid 3.86 FIP) in 44 2/3 innings. For what it’s worth, Ross has picked up where he left off this spring, having yielded two earned runs on four hits and four walks (three strikeouts) over 7 1/3 frames.
- Erick Fedde, RHP (one option remaining): Fedde totaled the fifth-most starts (12) among Nationals last year, but the results weren’t all that pleasing. He logged a 4.50 ERA/5.34 FIP with 4.73 K/9 and 3.81 BB/9 across 78 frames. That continued a trend of unspectacular major league production for Fedde, Washington’s first-round pick in 2014. Fedde has shown a penchant for inducing ground balls (52.8 percent), though, and has joined Ross in tossing 7 1/3 effective innings this spring. So far, the 27-year-old has given up two earned runs on five hits and four walks (seven strikeouts). But the fact that Fedde has an option left may not do him any favors in the fight for a roster spot in D.C.
- Austin Voth, RHP (out of options): Voth, 27, was quietly effective out of Washington’s rotation in 2019, when he recorded a 3.30 ERA/3.79 FIP and excellent strikeout/walk numbers (9.07 K/9, 2.68 BB/9). An uptick in velocity helped – after averaging 91.4 mph on his fastball the previous year, the mean climbed to 92.8, helping lead to an almost 5 percent increase in swinging-strike rate. Likewise, Voth held his own over 61 1/3 innings in Triple-A ball, where he notched a 4.40 ERA/3.85 FIP, struck out just under 10 hitters per nine and only walked a bit more than two. And Voth has continued to impress this spring, with one run allowed, six strikeouts and one walk through seven frames.