A.J. Cole spent the winter focusing on working out and adding weight as he prepared for Spring Training after the 24-year-old, 2010 4th Round pick made his MLB debut last season.
The goal, he explained, was to put on some additional weight in the hope that it would help him keep up his stamina throughout the grind of the long season.
He debuted as a starter and worked in relief when he returned to the majors late last season, and he told reporters this winter that he was ready for whatever role the Nationals needed him in this year.
"Whatever they want me as right now," Cole said. " I mean, I love being a starter and that's what I've always been, but if they want me as a relief pitcher, anything like that right now, that's what I'll do."
He made two appearances out of the bullpen for the Nationals this Spring, giving up four hits, one a home run, and two runs total.
Last night, Cole threw a scoreless inning in relief against the Houston Astros, giving up one hit and striking out one batter.
This morning, the right-hander was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse as the Nationals made a second round of cuts early in Spring Training.
Cole made 19 starts and 21 appearances for the Nationals' top minor league affiliate last season, put up a 3.15 ERA, a 3.90 FIP, 34 walks (2.90 BB/9) and 76 Ks (6.47 K/9) in 105 ⅔ innings pitched over which he held opposing hitters to a combined .227 AVG.
He finished strong, going (4-1) with a 1.15 ERA and a .183 BAA in his final six starts after he made a mechanical adjustment.
"It was just one of things things that there was a glitch and I couldn't figure it out at first and I got it down and I really feel like from here on it will all be good," Cole said.
Though he'll start the season in the minors, he'll be in line for another call to the majors when/if there is a need in the Nationals' bullpen or rotation.
The Nationals announced this morning that Cole and right-hander Abel De Los Santos were optioned to Triple-A Syracuse while right-handers Austin Voth and Wander Suero were reassigned to Minor League camp:
The #Nats optioned RHPs AJ Cole & Abel De Los Santos to Triple-A Syracuse & reassigned RHPs Austin Voth & Wander Suero to Minor League camp.— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) March 11, 2016