Apr 27, 2015, 11:36 PM EDT
Updated at 11:36 p.m.
ATLANTA — With Max Scherzer’s sprained thumb not healed enough to make his scheduled start Tuesday night, the Nationals will send prospect A.J. Cole to the mound to make his major-league debut against the Braves.
Cole, 22, is the organization’s top-rated, upper-level pitching prospect, rated the 30th-best prospect in the entire sport by Baseball Prospectus, 91st by Baseball America. The lanky, 6-foot-5 right-hander has a 2.40 ERA in three starts so far this season with Class AAA Syracuse after going 13-3 with a 3.16 ERA in 25 combined starts between Syracuse and Class AA Harrisburg in 2014.
The Nationals’ fourth-round pick in the 2010 draft out of Oviedo (Fla.) High School, Cole was one of four prospects dealt to the Athletics in the December 2011 trade that brought Gio Gonzalez to Washington. The Nationals then re-acquired him in January 2013 as part of the 3-team trade that sent Michael Morse to Seattle.
Cole now becomes the fourth different pitcher to make his major-league debut for the Nationals in two weeks, joining relievers Rafael Martin, Felipe Rivero and Matt Grace. The club will make a corresponding roster move once he is officially recalled from Syracuse before Tuesday’s game.
The Nationals could have gone with Tanner Roark instead, but the starter-turned-reliever would have been available to throw only 50-to-60 pitches, Williams said.
Scherzer tested out his thumb again Monday afternoon during a throwing session in the outfield at Turner Field. Though it felt better than the previous day in Miami, it’s still not 100 percent healed, so the right-hander will not make his scheduled start, manager Matt Williams said.
Williams did say he doesn’t expect Scherzer to need more than a couple extra days to get back on the mound, which means he could slot back into another spot in the rotation during this road trip and not simply pick up his place in five days.
“I would think that before another five days he’d be OK to go,” the manager said. “But there’s a progression there, too. We’ve got to get him on a bump and let him throw all his pitches and make sure he can do all that. That might happen [Tuesday]. But he came out and played flat-ground catch, felt fine. Threw his fastball 100 percent, but still a little tough gripping the slider for him. We’ll make sure he’s good to go when he’s good to go.”
Scherzer hurt himself when he was jammed while hitting during Thursday’s game in Washington. He remained in that game and pitched two more innings but noticed swelling in his thumb afterward. On Sunday in Miami, the right-hander suggested he sprained a ligament.
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