Zimmerman, Cole stoke Suns

June 05, 2011|By BOB PARASILITI |
  • Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman adjusts his helmet after reaching second base with his second-inning double on Sunday during his rehab stint with the Hagerstown Suns. Zimmerman is recovering from a torn abdominal muscle.
By Colleen McGrath/Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — When it comes to top prospects, A.J. Cole was lost in the shuffle.

He took the mound on Sunday when Bryce Harper — Washington’s top prospect — and Ryan Zimmerman — the face of the Nationals — were both in the Hagerstown Suns’ starting lineup. Cole was ONLY Washington's fourth pick in the 2010 draft.

But while Zimmerman’s rehab outing and Harper’s brush with injury were the main focal points, Cole put together a stellar five-inning, eight-strikeout performance to help the Suns to 6-5 victory over Greensboro before a sellout crowd at Municipal Stadium.

It was the first professional win for Cole (1-4) and it couldn’t have come at a better time — in the first match of a three-game series which could well decide the first-half title in the South Atlantic League’s Northern Division.

“It feels real good,” said the 18-year-old pitcher. “Sometimes you go out there and you can’t help losses. You just go out there and pitch and things happen. It all worked out today.”

The win gives the Suns a 2 1/2-game lead over Greensboro with 13 games remaining in the first half.

Five of the first six outs Cole collected came on strikeouts. His only mistakes came in the fourth inning when Greensboro’s Ryan Fisher and Isaac Galloway each tagged him for solo home runs, but it only got the Grasshoppers to within 5-2.

“(Cole’s) last start was good. He went five innings and only gave up one run,” said Suns manager Brian Daubach. “He has been working hard with (pitching coach Chris Michalak). We wanted him to attack the zone. They can’t catch you with solo homers.”

Cole’s pitches darted around the strike zone, thanks in part to his work with Michalak.

“He showed me a couple of things with my mechanics,” Cole said. “I have been working on transferring the ball out of my glove and I was more fluid.”

Zimmerman helped make sure Cole had a comfortable start, even though the Suns’ dream lineup featuring what could be two of the mainstays on the Nationals’ roster for years to come never really materialized.

The Suns took a 4-0 lead in the first inning on Greensboro starter Jheyson Manzueta (0-5), but it came at a price.

With two outs, Manzueta hit Harper with a pitch on the inside of the left knee. Harper sat on the ground and tried to stretch out the leg while being attended to by the Suns training staff. After a couple of minutes, he got to his feet and limped to the dugout as Daubach lifted him from the game. Wade Moore ran for Harper and took over in right field.

Harper walked to the clubhouse with a slight limp between innings. Daubach said that the injury didn’t seem to be serious and that Harper would be re-evaluated today.

Manzueta got the first two outs of the inning before walking Zimmerman on a pitch that left him visibly shaken. After hitting Harper, David Freitas ripped a two-run double down the left-field line to put Hagerstown on top. Randolph Oduber hit an RBI single to center and Jason Martinson doubled down the left-field line to complete the four-run outburst.

Zimmerman gave the Suns a 5-0 lead in the second inning with a two-out double to right-center field, scoring Blake Kelso from first. Kelso reached on a one-out infield single to short.

After Greensboro scored on the two homers, Hagerstown picked up a final run on back-to-back triples by Zimmerman and Moore in the bottom of the fourth for the 6-2 lead.

Zimmerman left the game after the fifth, going 2-for-2 with an RBI and two runs scored. It was his first game action since tearing an abdominal muscle while sliding into a base on April 9, which led to surgery.

“When guys come for rehab, you don’t know what to expect,” Daubach said. “Zim was locked in. He hit well and he moved pretty well.”

Greensboro got back into the game in the seventh with three unearned runs off Paul Applebee, highlighted by a two-run triple by Daniel Black and an RBI single by Noah Perio.

The Grasshoppers were in position to tie the game in the eighth when Fisher led off with a single and took second on a throwing error by Sean Nicol. Christian Yelich popped up a sacrifice bunt that reliever Wilson Eusebio caught and threw to second to double off Fisher and end the threat.

“Wilson is one of our most athletic pitchers,” Daubach said. “That well could have been the play of the game.”

Eusebio earned his second save of the year.

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