WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP)Erick Fedde and Austin Voth take their pets to the dog beach together. They check out new restaurants together, too.
Fedde and Joe Ross play each other in video games. When Fedde was called up to the majors for the first time, he crashed on Ross’ couch in the Navy Yard neighborhood not far from Nationals Park.
The trio of right-handers has known each other for years by now. They’re pals. Their lockers are all in a row at spring training — Ross, then Voth, then Fedde. And their futures in Washington are connected, too.
In all likelihood, one member of the group will earn a spot in the rotation as the No. 5 starter, one will land a bullpen job as a long reliever and one will not make the opening day roster at all. It’s one of the few areas of competition for last year’s champions as the start of the regular season approaches in less than three weeks.
Could make for some uncomfortable moments in the close quarters of a clubhouse.
“I really don’t think it’s awkward, because we’re all adults and we realize that our performance will get us there. If somebody outperforms you, it’s OK. But I’m going to sit here and be their biggest fans and cheer them on. They’re still my friends. I’ll go to dinner with them after games,” Fedde said.
“It’s one of those things where I would love for me to be the successful one, but if I can see my friends be successful, and I can help the team in other ways, it’s OK,” he continued. “That’s the attitude that got us a World Series last year.”
After Monday’s day off, the Nationals resume their exhibition schedule Tuesday. That begins what should be three more trips through the rotation before the games count; opening day for Washington is March 26 at the New York Mets.
Assuming no injuries, there is zero doubt who will fill the first four slots in the starting staff for the Nationals: Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Aníbal Sánchez.
All holdovers, all part of the club’s unquestioned strength.
The three guys trying to join them each split 2019 between the majors and the minors: With the Nationals, Ross was 4-4 with a 5.48 ERA in nine starts and 18 relief appearances; Fedde was 4-2 with a 4.50 ERA in 12 starts and nine bullpen outings; Voth was 2-1 with a 3.30 ERA in nine appearances, including eight starts. Each is approaching make-it-or-break-it time: Fedde and Voth are 27; Ross turns 27 in May. Fedde and Ross were first-round draft picks; Voth was selected in the fifth round.
“We’ve gone up through the minors together. We’ve been playing together for a while now,” Voth said. “I want them on the team. They’re my friends. I would prefer that all of us make the team, if we have the spots available.
Each has made three appearances so far this spring training.
“It’s all about consistency right now,” manager Dave Martinez said, “and what we see.”
Fedde, who threw 3 1/3 scoreless innings against the Tigers on Sunday, and Ross, who gave up two runs in 2 1/3 innings in a split-squad game against the Marlins on Saturday, both have a 2.45 ERA in 7 1/3 innings.
Voth, who went three shutout innings against the Mets in Saturday’s other split-squad contest, has a 1.29 ERA in seven innings.
“There’s definitely no negative wishes. We push each other,” Ross said. “We don’t really talk about who’s making the team. Instead, it’s ‘I’m throwing today; I’m going about what I have to do. You’re throwing tomorrow. Do what you have to do.’ And we’ll go from there and see how it shakes out.”
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