Those 7,168 strong in attendance for the Senators doubleheader on Saturday night saw an impressive performance from Game 1 starter A.J. Cole. The Nationals’ #2 rated prospect tossed a seven-inning, complete game shutout, scattering four hits while striking out eight and walking none. “It was a big lift for the team and for everybody, and also for A.J.,” Harrisburg pitching coach Chris Michalak told MiLB.com. “It was a good outing for him, strong performance. It’s good to see.”
Cole began the season winning ballgames (he was the only one), but things were still amiss. He didn’t look like the same pitcher who dazzled in seven starts late in the season last year. Strikeouts were down, hits allowed were up, and pitch counts each inning were soaring. Michalak pointed out Saturday night a minor issue that Cole had in his mechanics that they’ve adjusted to give him a better angle on some of his pitches. “His stuff is so good, but hitters were putting some long at-bats against him which was costing him in pitch count. Tonight you can see the difference and it’s just a matter of him being consistent with that and realizing the signs that he’s not getting this angle.”
For Cole, this was the only the fourth time in his professional career that he has pitched seven innings. That’s not rare for a strikeout pitcher, but it was a welcome sight for a guy trying to become more efficient on the mound. Michalak said, “We’ve talked to AJ that he doesn’t have to go 100% on every pitch. It’s okay to let them put the ball in play and get a groundball on one pitch. If you got an opportunity to strike someone out, take that shot at punching him out. But quick innings with groundballs and flyballs still work.”
The win also ended the Senators’ six-game losing streak, something Cole is all too familiar in doing this season. That’s another sign to be hopeful for his future: he does a great job of pitching in the moment. He’s not worried about the six-game losing streak. He’s not worried about the two-run deficit they may be in after the first inning. He’s not worried about the ball that shoots through the shortstop’s legs. His focus is on the next at-bat, the next pitch. It’s an approach that will serve him well moving forward.