Washington Nationals: A.J. Cole To Get Another Chance In Rotation

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Mar 15, 2017; West Palm Beach, FL, USA; Washington Nationals starting pitcher A.J. Cole (22) delivers a pitch against the Houston Astros during a spring training game at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 15, 2017; West Palm Beach, FL, USA; Washington Nationals starting pitcher A.J. Cole (22) delivers a pitch against the Houston Astros during a spring training game at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /
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After Jacob Turner throwing four innings last night, the Washington Nationals will probably turn to A.J. Cole Saturday night in Philadelphia

Last night, the Washington Nationals got a great performance from Jacob Turner out of the bullpen. He threw four shutout innings in the 2-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks. Turner had to go the last few innings, which puts them in a tough spot this weekend.

In his postgame press conference last night, Dusty Baker said that A.J. Cole is probably going to get the start Saturday night at Citizens Bank Park against the Philadelphia Phillies (7:05 p.m ET, MASN2):

Now that Joe Ross is down in triple-A, Cole is getting another chance to prove that he belongs in the Washington Nationals starting rotation. The 25-year-old right-hander went 1-2 with a 5.17 ERA in eight starts last season and had 14 walks in 38.1 innings.

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Cole’s 2016 season got off to a good start when he pitched into the sixth inning or better in his first three outings at the Major League level (1-1 record). But, during most of September, the best he could go was five innings and he had seven walks in his final four starts.

This year, Cole began the season at triple-A Syracuse, but the control issues have seemed to follow him. While with the Chiefs, he went 1-1 with a 6.63 ERA and had ten walks in those outings.

When you look at those four starts closely, he did not throw 90+ pitches in any of those outings. Now, his control has improved since the five walks he had in his first outing at Pawtucket. But, out of all of his pitches, only 63% of them have been for strikes.

The pitch to watch for from Cole if he does start Saturday night is going to be his fastball. According to Brooks Baseball, teams hit .289 against that pitch last year with four home runs (gave up seven total for the season). If he locates that pitch for strikes, it will allow him to use his slider in more favorable counts.

Now, just because Cole hasn’t been up over 90 pitches at AAA this season, that doesn’t mean he can’t get the job done. He did throw 95+ pitches in four starts last year. But, if he struggles Saturday night in Philly, look for Dusty Baker to have a quick hook and go to a bullpen that has gotten some rest during the Diamondbacks series.

For more on Turner’s good outing and another multi-hit night by Ryan Zimmerman, check out our DoDcast postgame show from last night with co-editor Ron Juckett and staff writer Chris Lacey:

Since Ross is going to be at Syracuse for a while, this is an opportunity for Cole to show whether or not he belongs at the Major League level. He has shown good things in the past, but he needs to work on his consistency and throwing the ball in the strike zone.

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So far, Michael Taylor has taken advantage of his opportunity in center field for the Washington Nationals. If Cole could take advantage of his, it will allow Ross more time to work on his pitches and would avoid the Nats from having to rush top pitching prospect Erick Fedde to the majors.

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