A.J. Cole’s 2018 debut did not go how he or the Washington Nationals would have liked, but they decided to give him another turn in the rotation immediately after he gave up ten hits, three walks, and ten runs, all of them earned, over 3 2⁄3 innings during the Nats’ series with the Braves in Atlanta earlier this month.
“His stuff wasn’t bad, just his location was the problem,” Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez told reporters in SunTrust Park. “He’d get ahead and then couldn’t finish hitters off.”
“You have those days of not having your day, but you’re always trying to compete and get through it,” Cole said, “and you’re always going to take something from those days.”
Trying to avoid a repeat of that outing, which was similar to his MLB debut against the same Braves back in 2015 (when he gave up nine hits and nine runs, four of them earned, over two innings in his only other start against Atlanta before this season), Cole took the mound this afternoon in Nationals Park and gave up a solo shot in the first, on a center-cut, first-pitch fastball to Ozzie Albies that ended up going over the out-of-town scoreboard in right field, putting the visiting team up 1-0 after one.
Cole settled in after giving up the home run and a double in the first, retiring eight straight after Freddie Freeman connected for the two-base hit with one down in the opening frame, and the Nationals’ starter was up to ten batters in a row set down before catcher Kurt Suzuki bounced a 1-1 slider off the left field foul pole for a two-out solo homer in the fourth that put the Braves up, 2-1.
Cole’s second walk of the day, which put Freeman on with one out in the Braves’ half of the sixth, ended his outing, but Martinez told reporters after what ended up a 5-3 loss in extras, that he liked what he saw from his starter.
“He pitched really well. Really happy. I got him out, wanted him to feel good about himself, and he did well,” Martinez said.
As for what was different between the two starts?
“Attacking the strike zone,” Martinez explained. “And we talk about that with him all time.
“Attack the strike zone. Attack the strike zone. I think one time he walked somebody with a breaking ball and he knew it coming in, [that I’d say] he should have just went after him.
“But he’s learning and that’s good that he brought that up.”
“From the last game, I just missed mostly over the plate,” Cole said when asked about facing the same team in consecutive starts.
“I looked at some film here and there,” the 26-year-old added, “and then I just went out with a game plan, worked in the pen, worked on the stuff I needed to work on and just went out there and made them hit my stuff.”
“I wanted to go in on Albies,” Cole explained, referring to the home run pitch to the Braves’ upstart infielder, “and I missed over the plate there, and then the slider [to Suzuki] backed up a little bit on me.”
The only big blows, while he was on the mound, came on solo home runs, which Cole said he could get over, even if he wasn’t happy about them.
“Solo home runs, yeah they suck, but they’re not devastating, they’re no three-run homers, or anything like that,” Cole said.
“So I can just go right back after them, I’m not going to dwell on it or anything like that.”
Will Cole get another turn in the rotation? Jeremy Hellickson threw 69 pitches in six innings in an extended Spring Training outing last weekend, and he’s likely close to being ready to pitch in the majors if the Nationals decide to call him up. Did Cole show enough to earn a third start?