Washington Nationals: Jacob Turner and A.J. Cole Battling for Rotation Spot

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May 6, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Washington Nationals starting pitcher Jacob Turner (38) throws a pitch during the eighth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. The Nationals defeated the Phillies, 6-2. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
May 6, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Washington Nationals starting pitcher Jacob Turner (38) throws a pitch during the eighth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. The Nationals defeated the Phillies, 6-2. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports /
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The Washington Nationals demoted Joe Ross last week, leaving the fifth rotation spot for Jacob Turner or A.J. Cole. We take a closer look into who should take the spot.

Joe Ross had gotten off to a rocky start as the Washington Nationals fifth starter in 2017, leading to his reassignment to AAA Syracuse. Now the Nats have a decision to make as to who will fill the role, even if Ross’ demotion is only temporary. Their two options are Jacob Turner and A.J. Cole, both of whom have impressed this year.

Cole got the start against Philadelphia on Saturday, which was the last time the fifth spot was up in the rotation, but it appeared to be only because Turner had just thrown four innings on Wednesday.

The fifth spot is up again on Thursday, and Dusty Baker announced that Cole will get the start again. However, Baker described the situation as mix and match for now, possibly hinting that Turner could get the start the next time through the rotation.

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The Nats should just pick one of the two and name them the fifth starter because it will be near impossible for them to prepare on days when they’re not pitching if they don’t know whether or not they’ll start or relieve.

Starting pitchers typically have a rehab progression on days they don’t pitch to strengthen their arms after a start and prepare for the next start. Relievers, on the other hand, cannot do this because they don’t know when they will be needed.

You could make a case for both Turner and Cole to join the rotation or pitch out of the bullpen, but Turner makes the most sense for the rotation.

Turner is a more established major leaguer, pitching in 83 games throughout his career, which is many more than Cole’s 12. Although Turner has gotten mixed results, he is more experienced and knows what it takes to pitch in the big leagues.

Turner has also had more success as a starter than Cole. Turner’s ERA as a starter is 5.21, but that is still better than Cole’s 5.24. As a starter, Turner has averaged 5.4 innings per start, while Cole has only averaged 4.6. With the current state of the bullpen, this could be an extremely important stat; the less the bullpen pitches, the better.

Although Turner doesn’t have fantastic career stats, he could finally be figuring things out. He is a former ninth-overall draft pick, so scouts loved what they saw from him at some point. He has always displayed a great deal of potential, but has never been able to tap into it. He has looked like a new pitcher this year, and maybe he is finally tapping into his potential. At 25, he is still young and could just be a late bloomer.

Turner also defeats Cole in the eye test. Turner was called up for an emergency start in Colorado when Stephen Strasburg was placed on paternity leave, and appeared to be set up for failure. Against all odds, he pitched well and put the Nats in a position to win. He has looked good for the most part, and looks determined to make an impact at the big league level.

Cole has only appeared in one game this season, and produced a solid stat line.

In six innings, he only allowed one run and held the Phillies to six hits. He outperformed the expectations set for him, but that isn’t saying much. Upon further analysis of the game, Cole didn’t perform as well. He took advantage of a weak Phillies lineup that was missing Aaron Altherr and Howie Kendrick. The Nats defense also saved him on multiple occasions with highlight-reel plays from Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, and Anthony Rendon.

Before going further, here is Ron Juckett with a recap of Wednesday night’ win:

One of the main things that could lead to Cole taking the rotation spot is the fact that Turner is a better pitcher. On the surface this may not make sense, but it’s true.

Turner would be able to impact more games as a reliever than as a starter, pitching several times per week instead of just once or twice.

Turner is also capable of pitching multiple innings out of the bullpen. The Nats have very few reliable relievers with Koda Glover, Shawn Kelley, and Sammy Solis injured, so Turner can eat a few innings instead of having other relievers struggle to get just three outs. The bullpen is a bigger need than the rotation, and this could lead to Turner being placed in a relief role.

Next: Our Interview With Carter Kieboom

The Nats have a decision to make as to who will take the final rotation spot. While Turner appears to be the better candidate, Cole took the first start and will soon take the second. It would be nice to see Turner earn the spot since he has more potential and could develop into a quality starter long-term, but the Nats may need him in the bullpen. It’s not a huge deal because whatever decision the Nats make will most likely be temporary, with Ross getting recalled when he figures things out in AAA.

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