A series of mediocre-to-bad starts by Washington Nationals pitcher A.J. Cole should end his season and not put him on the playoff roster.
In three innings, he allowed six hits and four runs. The good news is only two of those were earned as Cole did not take a decision in the Nationals 7-4 loss against the Miami Marlins.
If Dusty Baker was giving Cole a playoff audition, it did not pan out. The 24-year-old lanky righty looked tired with flat pitches and little command. With 160 innings logged on that arm between the Nationals and Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs, it is time to go home and come back healthy next February in West Palm Beach.
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You can see why the Nats are high on Cole for the future. He throws hard, is stingy with walks and can eat innings. With the Chiefs this year, he tossed two complete games.
Yet, the full package is not there. In his eight starts this year with the big club, he’s averaging under five innings a night. When he gets in trouble, he has yet to master a way out. Cole shows little confidence on the mound and the opposition wait him out.
When you combine the career-high usage and 5.17 ERA with the Washington Nationals, adding Cole to the playoff roster seems like a bad idea. In his seven seasons in the minors, he has come out of the bullpen five times in 141 games. Baker did not use him this year out of the pen. All eight games were starts.
With Joe Ross healthy—and stretched out—along with Reynaldo Lopez excelling as a long reliever, there is no role for Cole. As shaky as Gio Gonzalez has been this September, he will start Game 3 against the lefty-heavy Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series. Ross tossed 90 pitches in his start against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Although pitchers are adaptable, it is hard to see Baker asking Cole to come out of the pen for anything but a mop-up situation. Friday’s start did little to change anyone’s mind.
Cole will be disappointed not to make the playoff roster. Anyone who worked as hard as he did would. Running him out there and getting waxed, however, could hurt him far more than watching the NLDS from home. After three seasons with the Chiefs, it is everyone’s belief he will be on the Opening Day roster next year as the fifth starter, battling in Spring Training with Lucas Giolito for the spot.
There is a decent chance Giolito fails to make the playoff roster too. In the eternal bullpen slog of expanded rosters, he pitched twice and gave up six earned runs in 5.1 innings. Not the stuff of legends.
The Nationals have a good window here to be a contender the next few years. If they are in the chase in 2017 for the playoffs, Cole will be one reason. His day in the harsh October spotlight will happen. Unless something unusual occurs between now and next Friday, his debut should not be this year.