Washington Nationals: A.J. Cole tabbed as fifth starter


Washington Nationals pitcher A.J. Cole received a major boost Saturday when the team named him the fifth starter. What happens from here?

The Washington Nationals tabbed A.J. Cole Saturday as their fifth starter. At a meeting with fans, General Manager Mike Rizzo tipped his hand with 11 days left before pitchers and catchers report.

Although not a surprise, the move is telling. For Cole, it is an affirmation of his strong 2017 Nats season. For others, a sign other moves might happen sooner.

First with Cole.

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In eight starts filling in the rotation, he threw more innings than hits allowed. A strong step forward. Over those 52 frames, he scattered 51 hits while allowing the same earned run total from 2016, 22. The difference is Cole pitched 38.1 innings two years ago. The 5.17 ERA shrank to 3.81.

If he can harness more faith in his ability to throw strikes without getting crushed, Cole could see his stock rise over the course of the season. It is important to show the brass he can be consistent. Six innings and an ERA hovering around 4.25 a night does the job.

You know Tommy Milone is a reclamation project. Added depth if he can find his way or a Spring Training to reveal what is left. Washington knows what they have in Edwin Jackson. Insurance. Not the kind that upgrades your totaled car but gives you safe wheels at a bargain price.

Where does this leave young Erick Fedde?

In the Nats pursuit of catching help, Fedde’s name has surfaced as a possible prospect in trade. Yes, the Miami Marlins are hot after Victor Robles and Juan Soto for J.T. Realmuto. No, Washington is not doing that. But, Fedde and another mid-level prospect may turn the wheels.

Without rehashing his terrible numbers, Fedde’s ceiling is still higher than Cole’s. After trading three starting prospects in 2016 for Adam Eaton, the pitching-prospect cupboard is thin. Not as thin, however, as at catcher. Adding Miguel Montero is another kid-sized bandage on a gap needing stitches.

The reality of the National League East race dictates you could throw Screech the Eagle out there every fifth day and the Nats would still win the division. Still, this is a bonus for Cole heading into the Grapefruit League. Instead of looking over his shoulder in West Palm Beach, he can prepare for the season.

Next: Rizzo should hold on trade

Confidence is a good thing and Cole needs it. However, the key read from Rizzo says something else is in the works. If not Realmuto, then who? Keep an eye on Fedde.