BALTIMORE - A.J. Cole was doing his best Stephen Strasburg impersonation early tonight, but then the rookie right-hander ran into an Orioles lineup that has caused trouble for far more advanced pitchers this season.
Cole surrendered a solo homer to Jonathan Schoop in the bottom of the third, then a two-run shot to Mark Trumbo in teh bottom of the fourth, leaving the Nationals in a 4-2 hole.
Filling in for the injured Strasburg, Cole was sharp early, striking out five of the first nine batters he faced.
Recalled from Triple-A Syracuse only two days after he had been optioned following a two-day stint with the Nationals in Atlanta after Strasburg was surprisingly placed on the disabled list with elbow stiffness, Cole is facing the unenviable task of taking on a potent Orioles lineup. He handled it well at first, striking out the game's first two batters and displaying strong command (25-of-40 pitches for strikes).
But then Schoop homered over the left field foul pole in the third, Manny Machado and Chris Davis hit back-to-back doubles in the fourth and Trumbo followed with his league-leading 38th homer of the year.
After seeing his velocity decrease last season, Cole has returned to form in 2016. His fastball, which barely hit 90 mph in his major league debut last April, has been consistently at 93 mph so far tonight.
The Nationals had supplied their replacement starter with enough offense early to give him a 2-1 lead.
Anthony Rendon later belted a solo homer to deep left-center, his 16th of the season, to give the Nationals the lead back only a few minutes after they lost it on Schoop's homer (which had to be confirmed by replay officials in New York after it sailed directly over the left field foul pole).
Update: The Nationals couldn't get much going against Bundy, but Buck Showalter turned to his bullpen in the seventh, and now the Nats have struck back. Danny Espinosa homered off Mychal Givens - his first since July 3! - and that has trimmed the deficit to 4-3. Cole has done well, given the circumstances, allowing four runs on five hits through six innings, striking out eight. And at 94 pitches, he'll return to the mound for the bottom of the seventh.
Update II: And that'll do it. Nats lose 4-3. They had a chance in the eighth, but Murphy got caught in no-man's land off second base after Bryce Harper hit a comebacker, and then Ryan Zimmerman struck out at the end of a seven-pitch battle with Brad Brach, stranding runners at second and third. There was no such rally in the ninth against potential AL Cy Young Award winner Zach Britton.