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A.J. Cole wants the Washington Nationals’ fifth starter spot, and it’s his to lose this Spring...

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In an MLB Network Radio interview on Monday night, A.J. Cole talked about fighting for the fifth spot in the Nationals’ rotation, then he went out and started on Tuesday afternoon as he tried to show he deserved the shot...

MLB: Spring Training-Houston Astros at Washington Nationals Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

A.J. Cole told MLB Network Radio hosts Dan Graca and Kevin Kennedy in an interview on Monday night that he’s heard the rumors about the Washington Nationals looking to add an arm to the rotation this Spring.

Cole, 26, is the frontrunner for the fifth spot in the rotation right now, and if the Nats don’t land one of the remaining free agents, or trade for a starter to slot in behind Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, the right-hander, a 2010 4th Round pick by Washington who’s out of options this season, will likely get the first shot.

Cole said on Monday that he was focused on the things he can control as he prepares for the 2018 campaign, and he’s trying to ignore the chatter that is out there.

“I don’t try to pay too much attention to that stuff right now, I just try to go out and get my work in and show them everything I have,” Cole said.

“I want that fifth spot and I’m going to show them everything I have to earn that spot and help them win. I want to help this team win and I know I can help them win.”

With the Nationals expected to win the NL East, and hoping to advance beyond the NLDS after four division titles in the last six seasons and four losses in the Division Series, there is pressure to get “over the hump” and make it to the NLCS and hopefully the World Series this season.

Cole said new manager Davey Martinez is doing what he can to keep the Nationals focus on the field, and on each and every game.

“I don’t think we really stress too much on that,” Cole said of the high expectations. “We all know we’re a great team. We’ve got a lot of great players, we’ve got a great coaching staff here to help us. We’re just going to go out there, have some fun, and play the game like we know how to play. We’re going to win, we’re going to get right back there, and we’re just going to push through it and go all the way.”

What has Martinez’s message for the team been when he’s talked about handling all of the expectations?

“He’s a very relaxed guy, he’s already brought some camels over one day for us. We’ve had a great time so far,” Cole said.

“He doesn’t want to put the pressure on us like that,” he added.

“He’s told us, he’s like, ‘Everybody talks about this hump, and I’m tired of that.’ We’re going to get to there, we’re a great team, and we’re going to get right back there and we’re just going to go right through it and we’re just going to get all the way through it.”

As for what he’s working on himself this Spring, the righty said he has been focused on his offspeed stuff all offseason, having picked Scherzer and Strasburg’s brains for advice.

“I’ve talked to both Scherzer and Stras,” Cole explained. “They both throw a real good [changeup]. Scherzer has a very unique arm slot and everything like that, and I’ve asked how he held his ball, and I’ve gotten some hints on it, and I’ve really been trying and concentrating on getting through it, and I’ve come a long way with my changeup and I think it’s going to be a fairly good one this year, and I’m very confident with it.”

Cole has thrown his change 7.8% of the time thus far in his major league career, relying on his fastball (56.9%), slider (23.3%), and curve (12.1%).

He ran into trouble in his second Grapefruit League start of the year on Tuesday afternoon when he struggled to throw strikes early in the count, fell behind, and gave up some solid contact, surrendering five hits (one a home run) and three runs overall, striking out a total of four of 13 batters faced in the three-inning outing.

“His stuff was good, he just struggled throwing first-pitch strikes,” Martinez told reporters, as quoted by MASN’s Pete Kerzel, after the 10-5 loss to the Houston Astros.

“But I like what he was trying to do. I like the fact that he was really trying to get that curveball over and he needs that pitch. I’m glad he was working on it. That’s why we have spring training.”

“You know, I went in trying to get ahead of guys this time,” Cole said in a post-game chat with reporters. “I fell behind, it 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 down, so next game we’ll see how it goes then.”