"The ball just comes out of his hand really well," first-year Washington Nationals' skipper Matt Williams told reporters last Spring. "It just does. He's a little crossfire. Which is good. He's got, for me, he's got the ultimate pitcher's body. It's long and then he gets out front and the ball explodes out of his hand. I like it."
Williams was talking about prospect A.J. Cole, who made three appearances for the Nationals in Grapefruit League action during the Nats' manager's first year at the helm, throwing 6 ⅔ scoreless innings in which he struck out seven batters and gave up five hits, while holding opposing hitters to a .200 BAA.
Cole, 23, started the 2014 campaign at Double-A Harrisburg, going (6-3) for the Senators with a 2.92 ERA, 2.58 FIP, 15 walks (1.90 BB/9) and 61 Ks (7.73 K/9) in 14 starts 71 IP. He finished his fifth minor league season (4th with the Nats) at Triple-A Syracuse, where he went (7-0) for the Chiefs, with a 3.43 ERA, a 4.48 FIP, 17 walks (2.43 BB/9) and 50 Ks (7.14 K/9) in 11 starts and 63 IP.
Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo told reporters this winter, when asked about the possibility of Cole working out of the pen in the majors this year, that he thought of Cole as a starter and a, "... great starting prospect and a guy that you're going to hear from in the very near-future in Washington."
With Stephen Strasburg pitching in a minor league game today after having an ingrown toenail fixed yesterday, Cole was given a chance to start against the New York Mets' big leaguers in Port St. Lucie, Florida's Tradition Field.
1st: Mets' leadoff man Juan Lagares popped up on an 83 mph 2-2 off-speed pitch (change?) from Cole. NY's right fielder, Curtis Granderson, started behind 0-2, worked the count full and crrr-ushed a 3-2 fastball, sending a solo home run to right and just over the outfield wall. David Wright went back up the middle with a fastball, singling to center with one down. Cole got up on Michael Cuddyer, 0-2, but the veteran outfielder went with a breaking ball low and away and punched it out to short-center for the second straight single. Cole was up to 22 pitches when he missed with a 3-1 fastball to Daniel Murphy, whose walk loaded the bases for John Mayberry, Jr. Back-to-back benders put Cole up 0-2 on Mayberry, and a 90 mph fastball got a grounder to short that started an inning-ending 6-4-3. 25 pitches.
2nd: Wilmer Flores tee'd off on a 2-2 fastball, spit on a slider outside, but after fouling one off, grounded out to short for the first out of the second. Mets' catcher Anthony Recker worked the count full after falling behind 0-2, and walked when Cole missed low with a fastball. Eric Campbell sent an 0-1 fastball to left where Tyler Moore caught out no.2. Juan Lagares fouled off a few 2-2 pitches before taking a breaking ball to right for a two-out single that pushed Cole up to 47 pitches and ended his day.
Moore, Moore, Moore: Tyler Moore improved to 7 for 14 (4 doubles, triple, HR) so far this Spring with a leadoff single to right off Mets' starter Jacob de Grom in the top of the second.
Michael Taylor went down swinging at an 0-2 fastball from de Grom in his first at bat this afternoon, but Taylor lined a 1-1 slider outside to right the second time up, doubling to right-center to drive in two runs and make it 2-1 Nats after two and a half in Tradition Field.
The Mets' big free agent signing, Michael Cuddyer, hit the second home run of the game for New York in the first at bat of the home-half of the third, taking Evan Meek deep to left for a game-tying blast, 2-2.
Moore was given a hit on a chopper to short that Wilmer Flores failed to come up with, leaving the Nats' left fielder 2 for 2 today, 8 for 15 this Spring.
New set-up guy: Casey Janssen gave up a two-out double to right by Juan Lagares, but nothing else in a scoreless 14-pitch fourth. High 80s FB, low 80s curve, more of a junk-baller than I thought, having not watched the Jays much over the years, command was there though, socks high, bit jumpy on the hill, should be fun to watch in the tense eighth innings...
Veteran-y: Tony Gwynn, Jr. got all veteran-y in his one-out at bat against left-handed Mets' prospect Steven Matz in the fifth, working the count full and hitting a chopper toward short that was good enough to get Ian Stewart in from third base. 3-2 Nats.
Xavier Cedeno needed just nine pitches to retire the Mets in order in the fifth.
#RSOD: Danny Espinosa took Matz (a lefty, so, you know, whatevers) deep to left for a solo home run in the first at bat of the sixth, getting all of a fastball inside and putting the Nationals ahead 4-2.
Aaron Barrett threw a quick, 12-pitch, 1-2-3 sixth. Matt Grace worked around a misplay at short by Wilmer Difo on an Eric Campbell grounder and a single by Juan Lagares for a scoreless inning of work in the seventh.
Mitch Lively gave up a run two runs on three hits in the eighth as the Mets rallied to tie it up at 4-4. Eric Fornataro took over on the mound and gave up an RBI double by Eric Campbell that put New York ahead, 5-4 Matt den Dekker hit an RBI triple in the next at bat, 6-4. Alex Castellanos hit a two-run HR to center that made it 8-4... 10-4... 11-4...
Cutter Dykstra drew a bases-loaded walk in the top of the ninth to get the Nationals within six... On the first pitch from Mets' right-hander Carlos Torres, Clint Robinson hit a grand slam 400+ feet to center to make it 11-9.
That's how it ended...