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Nationals drop 5-2 decision to Twins in Grapefruit League action...

A.J. Cole, Erick Fedde and Austin Voth took the mound today in Grapefruit League action, giving Nats fans something to talk about as the offense struggled in a 5-2 loss to the Twins.

MLB: Washington Nationals at New York Mets Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

A.J. Cole started strong but struggled in his second inning of work, giving up a total of four runs in 1 23 innings in what ended up a 5-2 loss to the Minnesota Twins in Game 2 of the Washington Nationals’ Grapefruit League schedule. Michael A. Taylor scored the Nationals’ only run. Erick Fedde made his GL debut.

Here are the highlights from Fort Myers, Florida’s CenturyLink Sports Complex...

A.J. Cole came out throwing heat in his first Spring Training outing this afternoon, though as usual, that has to be taken FWIW since radar guns in Grapefruit League games are often a little hot.

Cole, 25, averaged 90.9 mph with his fastball last season, and got up to 93.4, but as both MASN’s Mark Zuckerman and Washington Post beat writer Jorge Castillo noted, he was up around 94-95 on the gun in the Minnesota Twins’ Spring home in the first inning of today’s game.

Cole worked around a leadoff double by Twins’ outfielder Byron Buxton in the bottom of the first this afternoon, but ran into trouble with two down in the second.

Back-to-back, two-out singles and a two-run home run put Minnesota up 3-0 early in the CenturyLink Sports Complex, and a walk to Buxton ended Cole’s outing after 46 pitches.

Buxton scored with Nick Lee on the mound, so Cole ended up being charged with four runs total in 1 23 IP.

Cole told reporters he was happy with his slider though it was down in the zone and he wasn’t getting many swings on it. He talked this winter about how his slider became a go-to weapon for him late in 2016.

“It was one of the pitches that was working better for me, so I kind of went towards it a little more,” Cole explained, after throwing 177 sliders last season, recording 16 of 39 strikeouts with it, and holding opposing hitters to a .195 AVG on the pitch.

Cole credited Nationals’ Pitching Coach Mike Maddux with helping him with the slider and his changeup, which he said he got a better feel for late in the season.

“He helped a lot with location for my slider and where to get extension,” Cole said.

“He helped get my changeup back a lot, kind of played around with a couple grips and he got the feeling for it back, so he helps a lot.”

Michael A. Taylor, who was penciled in atop the order after Adam Eaton had originally been listed as the leadoff hitter, scored the Nationals’ first run of the game, singling on a sharp ground ball to third, stealing second, moving to third on a groundout and then scoring on a grounder to short by Chris Heisey.

Taylor, who turns 26 in late March, tore up the Grapefruit League last season, going 24 for 53 (.453/.491/.849) with six doubles, five homers, four walks and 15 Ks in 20 games in Spring Training.

Dusty Baker told reporters, including MASN’s Mark Zuckerman, this morning, that was last Spring, and after a rough year in 2016, it’s up to Taylor to go out and earn a spot this time around.

“Last spring is over,” Baker said today. “Now you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do this spring to make the club.”

“Michael’s got to play his way back into the upper echelon ranks of our outfielders.”

Erick Fedde made his Grapefruit League debut for the Nationals in the fifth inning and the 24-year-old, 2014 1st Round pick retired the Twins in order, recording one strikeout (Brian Dozier). Miguel Sano hit a long fly ball for out No. 2.

Fedde came back out for another inning of work in the sixth and retired the three batters he faced in order.

With the trade that sent Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez (and Dane Dunning) to the White Sox, Fedde became the top-ranked pitcher in the organization according on Baseball America and’s list of the top prospects in the Nationals’ system.

Fedde told WaPost writer Jorge Castillo earlier this month that he was just focused on getting his work down this Spring and learning what he could from his teammates in his first big league camp.

“I just want to keep my head down and go to work,” Fedde said. “I’ve proved absolutely nothing at this level, so it’s just kind of a little nervous excited, just making sure I’m doing the best I can without being over the top.”

Vance Worley made his Nationals debut, giving up three hits and one earned run in two innings.

Wander Suero worked a scoreless inning for the Nationals in the seventh.

Austin Voth, 24, stranded two runners in a scoreless inning of work in the eighth.

Twins win, 5-2 final. Nationals 1-1 in Grapefruit League action.