A. J. Cole may have returned to the Nationals farm system this past offseason, but it looks like he finally settled back in on Friday.
The Nationals' No. 4 prospect tied a career high with nine strikeouts and gave up four hits over six shutout innings as Potomac cruised past Myrtle Beach, 10-3, at Pfitzner Stadium.
Cole (1-1) recorded his first win at the Class A Advanced level with his first scoreless appearance of the season for the P-Nats. He had been 0-1 with a 4.85 ERA in his first five starts.
The 21-year-old right-hander appeared to get stronger his second and third times through the Pelicans lineup. He struck out the side -- all swinging -- in the fourth inning and erased singles by Royce Bolinger and Drew Robinson in the fifth with a double play and another punchout. Cole fanned two more batters in the sixth before exiting his third six-inning appearance of the season.
The nine strikeouts tied a career high for the Florida native, who reached that total five times before, most recently on July 5, 2012 for Class A Burlington in the A's organization.
Selected by the Nationals in the fourth round of the 2010 Draft, Cole came back to the Washington system from Oakland as part of the three-team trade that sent Michael Morse to Seattle. He struggled in his first go-round at this level, going 0-7 in eight starts for Stockton while producing a 7.82 ERA and 1.84 WHIP. Sent down to Burlington in late May, he appeared to regain his form, going 6-3 with a 2.07 ERA in 19 Midwest League starts.
"I mean, I basically felt what I was doing wrong and it wasn't anything major," Cole told MiLB.com before the season about his time with Stockton. "It was just real small, some pitch selection, getting rotational. I fixed that when I went down. I was more successful."
Following a not-so-stellar start this season, Cole seems to have found that success once more for Potomac. He's tied for fourth in the Carolina League with 34 strikeouts, while his six walks rank third-fewest among pitchers who've made at least five starts.
Cole's batterymate, Cole Leonida, led Potomac's 12-hit attack by going 2-for-3 with a homer and four RBIs. Randolph Oduber tripled and drove in three runs from the bottom of the order.