Washington Nationals: A.J. Cole earns fifth starter role for now

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 25: Starting pitcher A.J. Cole
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 25: Starting pitcher A.J. Cole /

The Washington Nationals named A.J. Cole their fifth starter, but the righty struggled in his final spring outing, en route to a 3-1 loss.

One of the main roster battles throughout Washington Nationals‘ camp this spring has been for the fifth spot in the starting rotation. Erick Fedde and Tommy Milone pitched well, but A.J. Cole ultimately won the job.

Unfortunately, Cole struggled mightily in his final spring outing on Friday night against the Astros.

The goal was for Cole to throw about 90 pitches as he ramps up for the regular season, but he only lasted four innings. His final spring outing was uninspiring, as the righty allowed three runs on five hits and five walks.

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One of the most disturbing trends was Cole’s lack of control. Throughout the spring, he has issued seven walks in just 13 innings. Unfortunately, his control problems result in more than just walks.

In addition to issuing walks, Cole frequently falls behind hitters. He is then forced to groove a fastball, which typically comes back to bite him.

On numerous occasions throughout the spring, Cole has given up a big hit on a 2-0 or 3-0 count. Even if falling behind the hitter does not ultimately result in a walk, it has the potential to be extremely detrimental.

If Cole does not harness his control quickly, he may not last long as the fifth starter.

Jeremy Hellickson made his spring debut for the Nats in Jupiter tonight against the Marlins. Although he was limited to about 60 pitches, he made quite the impression.

When all was said and done, Hellickson only allowed one run on three hits and a walk in four innings. The roster hopeful pitched very well, especially considering it was just his first outing of the spring.

Hellickson will not be ready for Opening Day, so he will stay in Florida when the Nats fly north, but he could take over the fifth spot in the rotation in a few weeks. He is coming off of a down year, but impressed in his first spring outing and has a solid track record.

Cole has the advantage, since he is beginning the season as the fifth starter and has an opportunity to prove himself, but Hellickson could be in the rotation before we know it.

The Nats lost 3-1 to the Astros behind Cole on Friday night, but there is no need to panic. After all, it is just a meaningless spring training game.

More importantly, nobody got hurt.

Next: Erick Fedde will return soon

The Nats continue their spring exhibition schedule on Saturday against the Marlins, but play meaningful baseball in less than a week! After a long, uneventful offseason, the season is finally almost here.