With all nine fielding positions set and the “law firm” of Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Madson, and Sean Doolittle ready to helm the seventth, eighth, and ninth inning, the Washington Nationals have very little question marks entering the 2018 season.
However, there is still one hole that new manager Dave Martinez needs to fill and that is the fifth starting spot in the starting rotation. On February 5th, general manager Mike Rizzo made it clear the veteran A.J. Cole has the upper hand entering spring training.
“Our number five starter, you know, is A.J. Cole which I’m really looking forward to seeing where he’s at this year,” Rizzo said. “If you look at his numbers last year, his last seven starts were outstanding. He pitched in eleven games last year in the big leagues with eight starts and had a 3.81 ERA… Look at the other teams in our division. See where that ERA ranks on those other staffs. Probably in the top three or four in all of those other staffs.”
Rizzo is clearly high on Cole but Martinez wants to leave the door open for other options. Martinez said that there is an open competition for the last spot in the rotation, but he did also say that Cole “has the upper hand” if he can pitch like he’s capable of.
Today, on a Facebook live chat with MASN reporter Mark Zuckerman, Rizzo reiterated that Cole is the fifth starter. The team could very well be high on Cole and there is no doubt among management, coaching staff, or fans that Cole has the upper hand but does that mean he will be the one to take the ball every fifth day?
Could it be a rotational spot where Martinez goes with someone based on matchups? Or could Rizzo still be talking to some of the big name free agent pitchers like Jake Arrieta or Lance Lynn? As of right now Cole has the inside track to start but don’t be surprised if Rizzo and Martinez throw us a curveball of their own and do something different.
(Photo Credit: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images North America)