A.J. Cole stopped trying to be too fine, which worked out just fine for the Nationals' No. 2 pitching prospect
Cole worked five innings and combined with Wilson Eusebio and Dean Weaver on a one-hitter Saturday as the Class A Hagerstown Suns blanked the Delmarva Shorebirds, 2-0.
Staked to a 1-0 lead before he ever threw a pitch, Cole (4-6) retired the first 10 batters before issuing a one-out walk to Brenden Webb in the fourth. Jacob Julius led off the fifth with a single that turned out to be the Shorebirds' only hit.
"One run was all I needed," Cole said. "I would have been happy with more, but if one was all I was going to get, I was going to make it count."
A 2010 fourth-round Draft pick out of high school, Cole had given up 11 earned runs over 12 innings in his previous three outings.
"I was trying to be too fine with my pitches and not going back to the basics of what I know," he said. "Tonight, I let the ball work for me and didn't try to do too much."
Relying on his four-seam fastball and slider, the 19-year-old right-hander tied a career high with nine strikeouts -- he also fanned nine against Delmarva on June 11. He's pitched more than five innings just once in 16 outings, going six on July 17.
"A.J. has an outstanding arm," said Suns pitching coach Chris Michalak, a former big league left-hander. "We've worked with him on staying within himself and keeping his delivery smooth and free and easy. The ball was jumping out of his hand tonight; he was consistently hitting 94-95. His command was outstanding. He was something special to watch."
Eusebio came on in the sixth and retired all nine Shorebirds he faced, striking out three. Weaver fanned one in a perfect ninth to earn his second save.
"The No. 1 thing our guys did tonight was get ahead," Michalak noted. "They pounded the strike zone all night and kept pressure on the defense. That was the key to our success."
Blake Kelso tripled with one out in the first and scored the only run Hagerstown needed on a groundout by Adrian Sanchez. Kevin Keyes doubled home Kelso with an insurance tally in the ninth.
Jarret Martin (5-9) took the tough-luck loss, holding the Suns to a run on three hits and a walk over seven innings. He struck out six and set down the final 15 batters he faced.
David Schoenholtz is a contributor to MLB.com.