“It was a crazy morning,” Cole said. “I got a call at 5:30 a.m. I didn’t go back to sleep after. I just got up and got stuff ready. A 11:30 flight. Basically flying all day.”
Cole got to Petco Park, across the country, at 4:30 p.m. local time. And by 9:23 p.m., 12:23 a.m. back on the East Coast, Cole entered the game in the seventh inning. He retired nine of the 10 batters he faced, notching a three-inning save, the first of his major league career.
The last time Cole was in the majors, he made a spot start on April 28 in Atlanta and allowed nine runs, only four earned. His trademark sinkers were up and the Braves hit him hard. He made a costly throwing error.
“A lot of people say you get the nerves out but I don’t feel like I had the nerves the first time up here,” Cole said. “I just had little mechanical issues. I went down and fixed it there. I came back up and was ready to go. I fixed it. Everything worked a lot better this time.”
At Syracuse, Cole said he focused on driving the ball towards the plate in his delivery, instead of falling to his arm side. It made a difference Friday. His sinkers hovered around 90-91, a tad lower than in spring training, but the pitches stayed low in the strike zone. His slider and change-up were more effective, too.
“Experience helps,” Manager Matt Williams said.
The Nationals knew they were going to take Jordan Zimmermann out after six innings, his pitch count at 91 and the team with a comfortable lead, so they gave Cole an extra half inning to warm up, almost like a starter.
“It’s nice to be able to do that,” Williams said. “Felt like more of a start then a relief appearance for him.”
Because the Nationals don’t need a fifth starter until May 26 and can use their other four starters on regular rest thanks to off days next week, Cole could fill a role like this for the time being. He got a chance to try it out Friday.
“It feels great,” he said. “I am a starter. I haven’t been out of the ‘pen since I was maybe like 10 years old or 12. It was a lot different. But I came up here ready to go and I feel like I fixed some stuff from the last time I was up here.”