Martinez: Cole has “upper hand” for No. 5 starter’s job

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - The Nationals admittedly don’t have many jobs up for grabs this spring, a scenario few other clubs can appreciate, but the highest-profile competition this spring is of keen interest to Davey Martinez.

With the top four slots in his rotation well established and locked in, Martinez needs only to decide who will serve as his No. 5 starter come April. The candidates, for now: inconsistent right-hander A.J. Cole, top prospect Erick Fedde and veteran journeyman Edwin Jackson.

All things being equal, the Nationals’ new manager admitted, one of those three has a better chance of winning the job.

A.J.-Cole-throwing-white-sidebar.jpg“Obviously, if A.J. goes out and does what he’s capable of doing ... he threw a bullpen today and he was phenomenal. He really was,” Martinez said. “That was fun to see and very exciting, a fifth starter with that kind of arm. And the way he pitched to finish up last season, he’s got the upper hand. But like I said, spring training is long. We’ll just have to see. My biggest concern is just to see that he comes out of here healthy and ready to go.”

The organization has long waited for Cole to develop into a regular member of the rotation, but the results thus far have been a mixed bag. In 22 career big league appearances (17 starts) he’s 4-7 with a 4.52 ERA and 1.445 WHIP.

The 26-year-old right-hander did, however, show signs of progress late last season, posting a 2.70 ERA in his final seven appearances. The fact he’s out of options also suggests he’s likely to make the opening day roster, perhaps as a long reliever if he’s not in the rotation.

Fedde remains the organization’s top pitching prospect, though he underwhelmed during his brief period in the majors last summer, allowing 16 runs and 25 hits in 15 1/3 innings before being shut down with a minor forearm injury. The soon-to-be 25-year-old figures to be part of the rotation at some point in the near future, but the Nats may determine he’s best served gaining more experience at Triple-A Syracuse to being the season.

Jackson, meanwhile, returns to the organization on a minor league contract after filling in to make 13 starts last summer. The 34-year-old is viewed more as a fallback option if the younger pitchers don’t pan out, but he’ll remain in camp and will be given opportunities to pitch all spring.

There may be questions about the final spot in the rotation but Martinez has no concerns whatsoever about his top four arms. That confidence has only been bolstered the last two days as he has watched Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark all throw bullpen sessions.

“Oh, gosh, it’s funny because I can tell that they compete every day,” Martinez said. “They all want to be the best. And for me, that’s awesome. Perfect example, yesterday I’m watching Scherzer go out there for the first time and he’s (acting like he’s) facing hitters. That’s pretty awesome. And I see Strasburg today, already working on locating his breaking ball.

“These guys are true professionals, and they get it. I’m just excited to watch them on a daily basis. You only see them when you come to town once (as an opposing coach). To see them on a daily basis and know they’re on your side is pretty cool.”

Other newsy items from Martinez during his first press conference of the spring ...

* Adam Eaton and Daniel Murphy both are “right on target” in the final stages of their respective rehabs from knee surgery. Both are expected to be ready for opening day, though the club won’t push either if they appear to need more time this spring.

“Adam’s doing great,” Martinez said. “He wants to play, like, right now. And I’ve told him all winter it’s about getting you ready for March 29. So he’s doing really well. Daniel’s doing awesome, his progression running is doing great.”

* One of the other few jobs up for grabs this spring is the backup catcher position, with veteran Miguel Montero brought in to compete with 24-year-old Pedro Severino. Martinez, who coached Montero in Chicago the last three seasons, has high hopes for the two-time All-Star.

“I think he can help us. I really do,” the manager said. “He’s played with Max (earlier in their careers in Arizona). He’s a veteran guy. He likes to communicate in a positive way. So I think Miggy has a great chance to help us. I’m looking forward to having him play in the spring and doing what he does best and that’s call games.”

* Martinez made a point to say he intends to play all 25 of his guys on a regular basis. That means plenty of planned days off for regulars and opportunities for projected bench players Matt Adams, Howie Kendrick, Wilmer Difo and Brian Goodwin to make regular starts.

And those starts may not come at only one position. Martinez mentioned the likelihood that Adams will get some opportunities in left field. A career first baseman, Adams (who is replacing Adam Lind on the roster) has appeared in only 19 big league games in the outfield in his career, all of them coming last year with the Cardinals and Braves.

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