A.J. No. 5: Washington Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo has talked all winter about the way A.J. Cole finished up in 2017. He’s still talking about the 26-year-old righty’s development in the last year or so. In an MLB Network Radio interview last week, the General Manager removed any doubt about where the 2010 Nationals’ 4th Round pick will start the season.
“He’s always been a good prospect for us, but kind of inconsistent,” Rizzo explained. “I think he came to camp this year and he was bigger, stronger, more prepared for Spring Training. He’s thrown extremely well for us. He’s a guy, he’s out of options, with a lot of talent, so he’s going to be on the club.”
Cole is going to be the Nats’ fifth starter, barring any late-Spring issues.
With the newly-signed right-hander Jeremy Hellickson in the fold as well, it’s likely now a question of how long Cole can hold on to the fifth spot.
In his final Grapefruit League outing of 2018 tonight, Cole took on the Houston Astros in West Palm Beach, FL’s FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, and put the leadoff batter on in each of the first two innings.
Cole worked around a single in the Astros’ half of the first, but back-to-back-to-back walks started the second, loading the bases with no one out, and a sac fly to center made it a 1-0 game early, before the right-hander threw a slider by the next batter and got an inning-ending grounder to limit the damage in what ended up a 25-pitch frame.
Josh Reddick singled to start the third as well, putting the leadoff man on in three straight innings, and a wild pitch put him in scoring position at second, but he was thrown out at the plate trying to score on a single to center when Michael A. Taylor threw a strike to the plate and Miguel Montero made the tag.
Carlos Correa drove in the Astros’ second run with two down in the third, however, going the other way with a fastball inside and lining it to right for an RBI double, 2-0, and a high fly to left by Brian McCann that fell in front of a charging Matt Adams made it a 3-0 game when Correa came in.
Cole worked around back-to-back, two-out walks (his 4th and 5th of the night) in a 30-pitch fourth that left him at 89 total on the night (with help from Marwin Gonzalez, who lined out to left field on a 3-0 pitch).
A.J. Cole’s Line: 4.0 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 5 BB, 3 Ks, 89 P, 4/3 GO/FO.
Mt. Adams: For the second time in the last few games, Matt Adams countered the shift with a well-placed bunt towards the left side of the infield, reaching safely to start the Nationals’ second when Astros’ starter Gerrit Cole couldn’t field it. Well played, Matt.
Hit 'em where they ain't. pic.twitter.com/YKEoNshcSg— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) March 24, 2018
MAT TIME: Michael A. Taylor singled, moved to third on a ground-rule double to right by Howie Kendrick, and scored on an RBI groundout by Anthony Rendon to score the Nats’ first run of the game in the third, 3-1 Astros.
Bullpen: Austin Adams set the Astros down in order in a quick, nine-pitch, 1-2-3 fifth.
Enny Romero worked around a two-out walk in a 18-pitch sixth, striking out two of the four he faced.
Brandon Kintzler retired the ‘Stros in order in a quick, nine-pitch seventh.
Ryan Madson worked around an error in a scoreless, 10-pitch eighth.
Trevor Gott erased a leadoff single with a 5-4-3 DP, and worked around back-to-back, two-out singles in a 13-pitch ninth, giving him 10 scoreless innings on the Spring.
Final Score: 3-1 Astros
Meanwhile, in Jupiter: Jeremy Hellickson, who was working out on his own before he did end up signing with the Nationals last week, made his first Grapefruit League start of the Spring tonight in the away half of the Nats’ split squad matchups, taking on the Miami Marlins.
Hellickson hit the second batter he faced, Derek Dietrich, and gave up a single to center in the bottom of the first. Dietrich scored from second on a two-out RBI single to left by Brian Anderson, 2-1 (after Moises Sierra drove in two for the Nationals in the top of the first).
An 11-pitch, 1-2-3 second left Hellickson at 31 pitches total after two, and he walked the first batter he faced in the third, though the runner (Lewis Brinson) was erased when he was thrown out by Pedro Severino on an attempted hit-and-run/steal in the next at bat.
Hellickson gave up a two-out single by Starlin Castro, but picked the runner off first for the final out of a 23-pitch third that left him at 54 pitches overall, and he came back to face the Marlins in the sixth, retiring the side in order in a 15-pitch frame, 69 total.
Jeremy Hellickson’s Line: 4.0 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 Ks, 69 P, 3/3 GO/FO.
No. 2 prospect: Juan Soto’s first home run of the Spring, a two-run blast to right field off of Caleb Smith, put the Nationals up 4-1 on the Marlins in the fourth in Jupiter.
Meanwhile in Jupiter...— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) March 24, 2018
Juan Soto homered off the building in right field. pic.twitter.com/BzsJG7az0D
Bullpen: Sean Doolittle gave up a leadoff single by Miguel Rojas (who moved to second on a groundout, and third on a wild pitch), but stranded the only runner to reach base in a 13-pitch fifth. Matt Grace hit two batters in a scoreless, 17-pitch sixth.
Grace came back out for the seventh and gave up a solo homer by Garrett Cooper, 4-2, and back-to-back singles by Peter Mooney and Isaac Galloway made it a one-run game, but Pedro Severino walked to start the Nationals’ eighth, stole second, and scored on an RBI single by Juan Soto, 5-3 Nats, and 6-3 on an RBI double by Luis Garcia.
Tommy Milone tossed a scoreless eighth, working around one hit, and came back out for the ninth and finished off the Fish.
Final Score: 6-3 Nationals