Feb 17, 2014, 6:59 PM EDT
VIERA, Fla. — This morning’s session on the practice fields outside Space Coast Stadium saw a bevy of pitchers throw off the bullpen mounds for the second time in camp. Among the participants was Doug Fister, who already is showing the Nationals exactly what made him so attractive in this winter’s trade: His ability to keep the ball down in the zone.
Through two bullpen sessions totaling 20 minutes and perhaps 75 or so pitches, Fister has yet to miss up in the zone with a fastball, as far as anyone can tell. Everything he flings up there appears to be at knee level. The few mistakes he’s made have all been low.
That made for one of the more-entertaining moments of the day. Every pitcher is asked to throw one high fastball and then two pitch-outs near the end of his session. Fister managed to get one up to shoulder height, prompting some friendly ribbing from observers.
“Did that hurt, Doug?” assistant GM Bob Boone asked the right-hander. “That’s like telling me not to slice a ball off the tee!” …
The group that followed Fister in the bullpen included A.J. Cole, one of the pitchers that is particularly intriguing to club officials (and media members) who haven’t seen the right-hander throw very much before. Cole, 22, is in his first big-league camp after going 10-5 with a 3.60 ERA last year between Class A Potomac and Class AA Harrisburg (where he posted a 2.18 ERA in seven starts).
Though manager Matt Williams tiptoed around the notion that Cole could be competing for a spot on the Opening Day roster, let’s be honest: He’s not. Cole almost certainly will begin the year back at Harrisburg.
Regardless, what Williams has seen so far from the lanky, 6-foot-4 hurler has been impressive.
“The ball just comes out of his hand really well,” the manager said. “It just does. He’s a little crossfire [throwing across the body], which is good. For me, he’s got the ultimate pitcher’s body. It’s long and he gets out front and the ball explodes out of his hand. I like it.”
Cole has endured through an interesting minor-league career. Drafted by the Nationals in 2010, he was dealt to the Athletics the following year as a major piece of the Gio Gonzalez trade. Then one year later, the Nats re-acquired him in the three-team deal that sent Michael Morse to the Mariners.
How did Cole handle all that uncertainty?
“It was a big thing for me at the time,” he said. “‘Cause I got drafted and then almost right away, I get traded. It’s like, ‘Uh, what’s going on?’ Everything goes through your head. And then they brought me back and it was like, ‘Oh, I guess they did like me after all.'”
For now, Cole isn’t trying to think about reaching the majors this season. He has come to realize those things are out of his control.
“I’ve always done very well on the mental part of the game,” he said. “I take pride in that. I’ve learned the game pretty quick and don’t let the mental stuff get to me as much. I feel like if I can stay that way, I’ll succeed and hopefully progress a little quicker.”
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