After a rough night Tuesday, the Washington Nationals have concerns about A.J. Cole. Why it is time to wonder how many starts he has left.
Although it is harsh judging a player on one start, the trend from this spring is discouraging. Cole is not cut out as a starting pitcher.
Despite assurances from early February forward the job was his, Cole has thrown with the confidence of a scared kid. Mistakes lead to mistakes and then implosions happen. Tuesday, it led to 10 runs on 10 hits and three walks over 3.2 innings. But, he struck out the side in the first around four runs.
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Easy division or not that is unacceptable.
Not based on this start, but his spring work too. Although the specific statistics are not important, the inability to retire hitters after getting ahead in the count is. If Cole can get two strikes on a batter to start why is the hitter walking? Because pitchers not confident in their stuff nibble.
And, when they do, bad stuff happens. For Cole, it cascades into a torrent of runners. He focuses too much on his mistakes and makes more. The cycle repeats itself.
Although mechanics are an issue, the largest problem for Cole is between the left and right ear. He pitches with fear and good batters can smell that from their clubhouse. If he plans on staying a starter, getting the mental issues in order is a must.
His ceiling is an end-of-rotation starter. When Cole is on, he can control the game and get hitters out. But, as with any fifth starter, there is an inning where things go off the rails. If, at the end of the night, the line score reads six innings and three earned runs then you take it.
It is a quality start. That is the definition.
Whether it is the footsteps of Jeremy Hellickson or Erick Fedde he hears, this is not working. Washington does not have the luxury of working through Cole’s problems. Another trip to Syracuse, or rotting on the bench as a blowout pitcher, is a better option.
Unless Hellickson is ready, Cole should get another start. If he struggles again that is it. The ability to handle stress is paramount for work success. You multi-task. He must learn to thrive on the pressure of starting. Developing an out pitch helps but, at 26, the prospect part of his career is over.
Cole is worth rooting for. But, he must make the most from this as there are zero guarantees about the future.