A lot of good to build on from right-hander A.J. Cole's second start.
Last week in Atlanta in his first start of 2018, Cole got roughed up. He allowed 10 runs on 10 hits in 3 2/3 innings.
This time, Cole allowed an early home run, settled in, then allowed another solo shot, but that was it. A much better result for Cole, as he went 5 1/3 innings, allowing only two runs on four hits.
It was a no decision for Cole, as the Braves dropped the Nationals 5-3, in 12 innings.
"He did a great job," said catcher Pedro Severino. "I tell him this thing: He had to throw his first pitch for a strike every time. If he don't throw first pitch for a strike, he's going to be in trouble. So that's how he got a good adjustment in the game, and he made all the pitches on his own. He was aggressive."
Cole, 26, walked two but also struck out five, allowing only a pair of solo shots to Ozzie Albies and Kurt Suzuki.
His strikeout pitches ran the gamut of his repertoire: slider, curveball, four-seam fastball, slider and four-seam fastball. His final strikeout was impressive because he gave Albies a heavy dose of his curveball and four-seam until he earned a swinging strike three.
"I felt pretty good going out there," Cole said. "I was going out there with one plan: Making them hit my pitch. I went out there and executed that pretty well. I missed with a couple, and yeah they got 'em, but learn from there.
"Solo home runs, they suck, but they're not devastating. They're not three-run homers or anything like that. I can just go right back out there and not dwell on it or anything like that."
How different was this start compared to the struggles of that first outing when you allowed 10 runs?
"From the last game, I just missed mostly over the plate," Cole recollected. "I looked at some film here and there, and then I just went out with a game plan. I worked in the pen, worked on stuff I needed to work on, and went out there and made them hit my stuff.
"Today was pretty good. Like I said, just two pitches really -- I wanted to go in on Albies, and I missed over the plate there. And a slider backed up a little bit on me."
Manager Davey Martinez always preaches first pitch strikes. But for Cole it's all about finding the strike zone. Martinez said Cole even understood what he did wrong and what he needed to do to improve.
"Attacking the strike zone," Martinez said. "We talk about that with him all the time, attack the strike zone, attack the strike zone. think one time he walked somebody with a breaking ball and he knew it coming in, he said I should've just went after him. But he's learning. And that's good that he brought that up."
It doesn't seem that drastic, but Cole actually cut his ERA in half, from 24.55 to 12.00 with one start. The biggest takeaway from this second start was Cole did not let it all unravel after allowing the solo shot to the second batter he faced in Albies. After that first homer, Cole managed to retire 10 of the next batters he faced. That is a very good stepping stone for Cole and kept him in his role as the No. 5 starter.