A.J. Cole kept falling behind in the count, and the Houston Astros made him pay with three runs on five hits in the three innings against the Washington Nationals’ righty. It wasn’t Cole’s best outing, but he did collect four strikeouts in his second start of the Spring, and the Nats rallied to get within one run after seven before a bullpen blowup finished off the home team in what ended up a 10-5 loss in West Palm Beach, FL.
Cole, Cole World: Though he’s been up and down between Triple-A and the majors over the last few seasons, A.J. Cole has spent enough time in the Nationals’ rotation to learn from other pitchers like Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, and the 26-year-old right-hander said he took what he could from his fellow starters and applied it while preparing for the 2018 campaign.
“I took the time from last year, everything I’ve learned from playing with Scherzer and Stras, and all those big guys,” Cole explained in an MLB Network Radio interview on Monday night, “... and I went into the offseason and worked real hard on getting my off-speed ready for early in camp and I’ve done a pretty good job on that, and I’m feeling pretty confident.”
In his second Grapefruit League start this afternoon, Cole, who’s in camp this competing for the fifth spot in the Nationals’ rotation this Spring, and out of options this season, got off to a slow start.
After Josh Reddick lined sharply to right for the first out of the inning, Cole fell behind 3-0 on Marwin Gonzalez before giving up a home run to right field that put the Astros up 1-0 early, then got Jose Altuve, looking, and Carlos Correa, swinging, for the second and third outs of a 16-pitch opening frame.
Cole needed just nine pitches to get through a scoreless second, getting a 6-4-3 DP out of Max Stassi after a one-out single to center by A.J. Reed.
Astros’ outfielder Jon Kemmer took a 1-1 pitch up in the zone to left for a leadoff single in the top of third, and Tony Kemp hit a 1-0 pitch to left field that got over Brian Goodwin’s head for a double.
With runners on second and third, Reddick went with a 2-1 pitch and punched it through the left side to center for a two-run single that put the Astros up by three, 3-0.
Cole fell behind Marwin Gonzalez again, 3-0, again, and gave up a hard-hit line drive to right field that Bryce Harper tracked down for the first out of the third.
Altuve went down looking at a 2-2 fastball inside, and Correa swung over a 2-2 slider for the final out of a 24-pitch frame that left him at 49 total.
“Trying to get ahead of guys this time, and I fell behind,” Cole told reporters after his day was done.
“Made it a little harder to pitch. I was trying to go in there, get my secondary stuff working for strikes. I was happy with it, but the strike part, I was just a little bit down, so the next game we’ll see how it goes then.”
Goforth and Conquer: David Goforth took over on the mound for A.J. Cole in the Astros’ fourth, and gave up a leadoff walk (to Evan Gattis) and two-run home run (by A.J. Reed) that put Houston up 5-0 in the two teams’ shared Spring Training home.
Fedde in relief: Marwin Gonzalez doubled to left field, and Jose Altuve sent a ground ball back to the mound Erick Fedde couldn’t handle as the Astros put runners on the corners with no one out in the fifth.
Correa sent a fly to right for the first out of the frame, however, and Fedde threw a fastball by Evan Gattis for out No. 2, before A.J. Reed grounded out to end a 22-pitch fifth.
TGTSO: Chris Dominguez doubled to start the Nationals’ half of the fifth inning, and Nats’ prospect Jose Marmolejos hit a 1-1 fastball from Astros’ righty James Hoyt out to left-center to get the home team on the board, down 5-2 in the fifth.
It was the first home run of the Spring for Marmolejos:
Bryce Harper singled two outs later, to keep the bottom of the fifth going, and an Anthony Rendon walk and Matt Wieters’ RBI single followed as the Nationals continued to cut into the Astros’ lead, 5-3.
Fedde Round 2: Jon Kemmer crushed a first-pitch fastball from Fedde in the sixth, and hit it out to straight center, over the wall for a solo bomb that made it 6-3 Astros.
The line is moving again: Andrew Stevenson bunted his way on, Chris Dominguez singled, and two outs later Moises Sierra walked in front of Adrian Sanchez, who singled to right to drive in two and make it a one-run game, 6-5 ‘Stros.
Bullpen Notes: Tim Collins tossed a scoreless seventh for the Nationals, but right-handed reliever Roman Mendez got himself into a bit of a jam with three straight one-out walks in the eighth, and Alejandro Garcia made Mendez pay with a base-clearing line drive double to left-center that put the Astros up by four, 9-5. Ryan Birk’s two-out triple drove in run No. 10 for the Astros and knocked Mendez out. Chris Smith finished off the eighth, and came back out with a scoreless ninth, but the Nationals failed to rally in the bottom of the final inning.
Final Score: 10-5 Astros.