A.J. Cole has tremendous return to Nationals organization, works on breaking ball

Right-hander A.J. Cole made one of the most impressive jumps this season, moving up from high Single-A Potomac to Double-A Harrisburg.

This was a far cry from his previous season with the Oakland A’s organization, when he dropped down from high Single-A to low Single-A.

But fortunately, in the Michael Morse triangle trade that also involved Seattle, Cole was made available to the Nationals again and general manager Mike Rizzo snatched him back.

Potomac manager Brian Daubach had Cole when he was the skipper for low Single-A Hagerstown and at the beginning of this season, saw a lot of the same qualities that made the youngster from Florida such a rising star prior to his trade.

“I remember having him two years ago in Hagerstown, he was there and he had a real, real strong second half,” Daubach said. “For a young kid to be traded that early in his career, when he is just getting comfortable in his surroundings, can be tough.

“And I think he was able to relax (this year), there was some familiarity there, whether it be with (Nationals pitching coordinator) Spin Williams or (Potomac pitching coach) Chris Michalak where we started him in Potomac. He just kind of knew all the people around him and something can be said for his first organization and to be back there, I think he just relaxed.”

Cole went 6-3 with a 4.25 ERA in 18 starts for Potomac. He struck out 102 batters and walked only 23 in 97 1/3 innings. Daubach said Cole had success with his fastball and changeup as the season started in Potomac.

“His fastball command was very, very good again,” Daubach said. “His changeup was really good at times. His breaking ball was a work in progress. I know he worked on that throughout the season. I didn’t see him a whole lot in the second half.

“His fastball command is really, really good for his age. When he can get that breaking ball to be consistent, I think he can move quickly.”

As if he was just getting into a groove, Cole’s numbers jumped when he arrived at Double-A. In seven starts, Cole went 4-2 with a 2.18 ERA, with 49 strikeouts and only 10 walks in 59 1/3 innings. In his first 20 innings for Harrisburg, Cole allowed only two earned runs.

Double-A Harrisburg pitching coach Paul Menhart said Cole’s breaking ball is making steady progress.

“Yes, it was pretty good with us,” Menhart said. “There is still room for improvement though.”

Menhart said they have worked on Cole adjusting his grip on the breaking ball and now he needs to get to a point where it is second nature.

“He needs to get more reps with his new grip and obtain a consistent feel for it,” Menhart said.

All of the progress Cole made this season, from elevation to Double-A and his improved efficiency and mechanics, bodes well for a serious junior season in the Nationals organization come 2014.

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