PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - An ingrown toenail has forced Stephen Strasburg to be scratched from making his second start of the spring today. Highly ranked prospect A.J. Cole, who was scheduled to pitch at some point against the Mets, will now get the ball first.
It will be Cole’s second appearance of the exhibition season after giving up two runs (one earned) on two hits in 2 1/3 innings against the Cardinals on Saturday.
This is actually the second go-around for Cole with the Nationals, who selected the 6-foot-5 right-hander in the fourth round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft only to deal him to Oakland a year later in the Gio Gonzalez trade. A three-way trade that sent Michael Morse to the Mariners in 2013 eventually brought Cole back to the Nationals.
Cole made tremendous strides last season, going 13-3 with a 3.61 ERA and 111 strikeouts in 25 starts between Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A Syracuse. In 11 starts after being promoted, Cole posted a perfect 7-0 record with Syracuse.
“He is, for me, growing into his body,” manager Matt Williams said. “Young player, he’s tall, he’s got great leverage and he’s getting stronger certainly by the year. This year, he came into spring training looking great. Of course, we know about his fastball and curveball. Depending on the day, he can touch the mid-to-high 90s with his fastball and a curveball with feel to go with it. That’s unique in that he’s got the feel and the velocity at the same time. Certainly a very promising prospect for us and still very young.”
Don’t expect Cole to make any starts for the Nats this year, but it’s possible he finds his way to the bullpen at some point in the season if not straight out of camp.
“We’ve got to make sure we progress him in the right way,” Williams said. “I know he wants to pitch and loves taking the ball that’s for sure.”