Beneath the surface of Austin Voth's gaudy numbers, the nuances and, at times, even the struggles is the story of a rising prospect still learning his way through the Minor Leagues. He turned in another gem on Friday night, extending his scoreless streak to 21 innings, but it nearly fell apart in the second inning.
"Between innings, my pitching coach came up to me and told me I needed to slow down," said Voth, who's been nearly untouchable since his promotion to Class A Advanced Potomac last month. "I needed to keep my front side closed in a little longer. It was a quick fix for me -- I needed to take a deep breath and slow things down, and that definitely helped."
Voth returned to cruise control, allowing one hit and striking out eight over seven more dominant innings before the Nationals dropped a 3-0 decision at Wilmington.
This latest gem comes seven days after the Nationals' No. 16 prospect took a no-hitter into the sixth against Frederick. His effort on Friday lowered his ERA to 0.27 in five Carolina League starts.
"It's great. I'm definitely on the right track and I'm exactly where I want to be going into my next couple starts," Voth said. "I couldn't be happier with my progress of how I'm taking each start. I'm a very happy guy right now."
The 22-year-old right-hander has given up one run on 10 hits over 33 innings since moving up from Class A Hagerstown on June 24. The only run he's allowed with Potomac was a solo homer by Frederick's Trey Mancini on June 29; since then, he's limited opponents to six hits while striking out 23.
On Friday, the Blue Rocks got their only hit off Voth in the first inning when Raul Mondesi -- the Royals' second-ranked prospect -- poked a one-out single up the middle. Voth worked around a two-out walk to Jared Schlehuber in the second, pitched a 1-2-3 third and struck out the side in the fourth en route to retiring the final 16 batters he faced.
The 2013 fifth-round pick had to overcome some early issues with fastball command.
"Early on in the game, I was having a hard time locating my fastball for strikes early in the count, I was overthrowing a bit," he said. "I was pitching away from contact, which isn't me. Later in the game, I started pitching to contact and starting to pitch to the big part of the strike zone and letting the hitters hit it. Just be simple, pitch to my strengths, and I cruised through seven."
Striking out the side in the fourth only showed what a groove Voth was in following the pep talk from pitching coach Franklin Bravo.
"I definitely didn't intend on doing that," he said. "Certain pitches I'd been setting up earlier in the count helped. To all three, I went fastball away or in and then I finished with, I think to the righties, curveballs; and to the lefty, the fastball."
Voth's Carolina League numbers are far-fetched from all angles. He's holding opponents to a .092 average while issuing only six walks. He hasn't yielded more than three hits in any outing and no one has gotten a hit off him with runners in scoring. And he hasn't hit a batter nor thrown a wild pitch.
All that would suggest the University of Washington product has done a good job of proving he's mastered the Class A Advanced level, although the Nationals could keep him in Potomac for postseason experience. The P-Nats wrapped up a playoff berth by winning the first-half Northern Division crown.
"They haven't talked to me about my future and I'm not really worried about it," Voth said. "I mean, I set my goal of getting to Potomac, that was my goal coming into this year. I'm fine with that. If they keep me in Potomac or move me to Harrisburg, I'd be fine with both. I'm just glad to be here."
Ian Dickson (1-8) came on to start the eighth for the P-Nats but gave up three runs on three hits and a walk over the final two innings.
Blake Wood (1-1) fanned one while recording the final six outs for Wilmington after starter Jon Dziedzic -- Kansas City's 13th-round pick last year, held Potomac scoreless on four hits over seven frames.
"It's definitely frustrating when you go up with another pitcher like that. You know it's going to be a long night," Voth said of facing Dziedzic. "You keep fighting your way until somebody scores. My mind-set was to go out and put up a zero every inning until they took me out of the game. Unfortunately, we didn't get any run support tonight, but that's sometimes how it goes."