The Washington Nationals optioned 23-year-old right-hander A.J. Cole to Triple-A Syracuse this week after the 2010 4th Round pick made three Grapefruit League appearances with the Nats, giving up eighth hits, three of them home runs, two walks and four runs total, three earned in seven innings pitched.
Cole, Nationals' manager Matt Williams explained, needed to begin preparing in earnest to start the 2015 campaign at Triple-A and there aren't many innings available in Spring Training games at this point.
Williams did, however, tell reporters, including MLB.com's Bill Ladson, that he was impressed with what he saw from Cole.
"'I thought he pitched really well. We have to get him back down to his normal routine. He is working on secondary pitches and that's the key for him. He runs the fastball in there in the mid-90s. As a starter, he can do that for extended innings. The key for him is the breaking ball and the changeup.'"
Cole's fifth minor league season, his fourth in the Nationals' system and second since he was traded to the Oakland A's for a year and then reacquired, began with 14 starts for the Double-A Harrisburg Senators, for whom he was (6-3) with a 2.92 ERA, 2.58 FIP, 15 walks (1.90 BB/9) and 61 Ks (7.73 K/9) in 71 IP.
He was then promoted to Triple-A Syracuse, making 11 starts for the Chiefs, over which he went (7-0) with a 3.43 ERA, a 4.48 FIP, 17 walks (2.43 BB/9) and 50 Ks (7.14 K/9) in 63 IP.
Baseball America ranked Cole 6th overall in the Nationals' organization after the season, as the third-highest right-hander in the system behind Lucas Giolito (no.1), Reynaldo Lopez (no.3) and Erick Fedde (no.4).
He was optioned to Triple-A last week, but with Stephen Strasburg unavailable (ankle), Cole was called upon to start for the big-league Nationals again today.
This afternoon in Lakeland, Florida's Joker Marchant Stadium, Cole matched up against Justin Verlander, who threw a quick, six-pitch, 1-2-3 frame to start the game. Cole took the mound in the bottom of the first, and retired the side in order, striking Tigers' slugger Miguel Cabrera out with what Washington Post writer James Wagner wrote on Twitter was an offspeed full-count offering to end the inning.
A.J. Cole pumps fastballs at Miguel Cabrera in the slugger's spring debut, then gets him to swing through an offspeed pitch for the K.— James Wagner (@JamesWagnerWP) March 22, 2015
The Nationals were up 2-0 when Cole took the mound for the bottom of the second, after Sandy Leon and Emmanuel Burriss drove in runs in the top of the frame.
Cole hit the first batter he faced in the second, plunking Tigers' right fielder J.D. Martinez with a fastball, but stranded the runner when he retired the next three batters in order, striking Nick Castellanos and Jordan Letterton out to end his second scoreless inning of work.
Michael Taylor improved to 1 for 2 today and 10 for 33 this Spring with two doubles, two triples and two home runs in 11 games after he took a Verlander fastball for a ride, deep to right and out for an opposite field blast that made it 3-0 Nats in the third.
Cole's third inning of work ended with a 6-4-3 DP that erased the one-out walk the righty issued to Tigers' infielder Josh Wilson. Three scoreless for Cole, 3-0 Nationals.
Ian Stewart hit another solo home run off Verlander in the first at bat of the fourth, putting the Nationals up 4-0.
The bottom of the fourth inning began with a leadoff walk to Alex Avila. Another offspeed pitch got a second swinging K out of Miguel Cabrera, but J.D. Martinez made Cole pay for the free pass with a two-run home run to left field that cut the Nats' lead in half, 4-2. Cole struck Yoenis Cespedes out for K no.5 on what would be his last pitch of the game...
A.J. Cole's Line: 3.2 IP, 1 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 5 Ks, 52 P, 33 S, 3/1 GO/FO.
Tanner Roark took over on the mound for the Nationals with two down and struck Alex Castellanos out to end the fourth.
Michael Taylor was 2 for 3 today and 11 for 34 this Spring after he hit his second home run of the game off Verlander in the first at bat of the fifth. 5-2 Nationals.
Tyler Moore hit his seventh double of the Spring off Tigers' right-hander Joe Nathan in the top of the sixth, improving to 13 for 37 with the seven doubles, a triple and a home run in 14 games. 6-2 Nationals.
Matt Thornton gave up three hits and a run in an inning of work in the sixth, allowing the Tigers to pull within three when Nick Castellanos drove Yoenis Cespedes in from second after Cespedes doubled to center field. 6-3 D.C.
Jerry Blevins gave up a one-out walk to Josh Wilson and a two-out, two-run home run by Alex Avila as the Tigers pulled within one after seven, 6-5 Nats.
Matt Skole drove in a run for the Nationals in the eighth, however, singling through the right side of the infield to drive Randolph Oduber in after the Nats' prospect doubled to left and took third on a throwing error. 7-5 Nationals.
Xavier Cedeno surrendered a solo home run in the Tigers' eighth, 7-6, and Detroit tied things up at 7-7 when Joey Pankake took Manny Delcarmen deep in the ninth for a solo home run. That's how it ended.