A.J. Cole snapped a four-start losing streak with a 5 2⁄3-inning outing against the Miami Marlins back on September 4th in Florida, in which he worked around five hits and four walks, allowing just two runs, one earned.
Cole made two relief appearances after that start before he took the mound against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Saturday afternoon in Nats Park.
Dusty Baker talked before the second of three with LA in D.C. about the improvement he’s seen from Cole, 25, and a 2010 4th Round pick by Washington, during their two years together with the Nationals.
“He’s a more consistent than he was last year, I think,” Baker said. “He’s been the swing man from the minor leagues to the big leagues, and he handles it pretty well.
“He has a pretty even demeanor. As long as he can control his fastball, that sets up everything else. That’s all pitchers, but especially with him.”
Heading into today’s start, opposing hitters had a .291 AVG against Cole’s fastball, and a .175 AVG against his slider, the two pitches he’s used most often in his limited action in the majors this season.
Cole looked sharp early against the Dodgers, with an 11-pitch, 1-2-3 first that ended with the right-hander throwing a 94 mph fastball by Justin Turner, but Dodgers’ rookie Cody Bellinger hit an 0-1 fastball out to right in the first at bat of the second to give the visiting team a 1-0 lead early in the game.
Bellinger’s homer was the fifth by a left-hander off of Cole in 2017, of the seven total he’s allowed.
Left-handed hitters started the day with a .301/.407/.521 line against Cole, versus right-handers’ .229/.316/.371 line.
Chase Utley (also a lefty) doubled to right in the top of the third inning, moved up on a groundout, and scored on a two-out RBI single to left by Bellinger (2 for 2) that put the Dodgers up 2-0 after two and a half.
Utley doubled again to lead off the fifth, lining a 2-1 slider up in the zone through the shift in right, and then took third on a single by Corey Seager before scoring on a sac fly to center by Justin Turner, 3-1.
A single and HBP in the sixth ended Cole’s afternoon after 92 pitches.
LA’s left-handers went 6 for 14 with two doubles, a home run, and a walk against the Nationals’ starter, with six of the Dodgers’ seven hits off Cole in what ended up a 3-2 win.
A.J. Cole’s Line: 5.0 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 5 Ks, 1 HR, 92 P, 57 S, 4/1 GO/FO.
Cole said he ran out of steam in his final inning of work when Baker sent him back out for the sixth.
“That last inning, I’m on four days of rest, so I’m trying to push and give everything I have for them,” Cole said, as quoted by MASN’s Byron Kerr.
“I just kind of ran out of gas in that last inning. Just trying to make pitches. One ball got away from me in that last inning trying to go in, slipped a little bit, hit him.”
Baker was asked if the fifth inning was Cole’s no matter what, and if he decided before the inning to let the right-hander finish it out either way since he didn’t get him when he struggled to get through the frame.
“No, not really,” Baker said. “We were hoping I didn’t have to get him before the fifth.”
Dodgers’ lefty Rich Hill held the Nationals off the board until the fourth and limited them to one run on one hit, a solo home run by Anthony Rendon. They added a run late to make it close, but fell short.
“We did all we could,” Baker said. “Mixes and matches to try to win the game.
“[Cole] kept us in the game, he kept us within striking distance, we had a couple opportunities, and the big hit has been eluding us lately.”