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Fifth spot in Nats' rotation belongs to Cole

Hellickson to remain in Florida for extended spring training
MLB.com @JamalCollier

JUPITER, Fla. -- It was apparent for much of the spring, but manager Dave Martinez made it official on Friday afternoon, saying that right-hander A.J. Cole will be the team's fifth starter to start the season.

Cole began camp as the favorite considering his strong finish last season. He was out of options, and general manager Mike Rizzo said last week that he would definitely make the team. Now, after spending the past few seasons as a spot starter, Cole has a rotation spot he has been chasing for years.

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JUPITER, Fla. -- It was apparent for much of the spring, but manager Dave Martinez made it official on Friday afternoon, saying that right-hander A.J. Cole will be the team's fifth starter to start the season.

Cole began camp as the favorite considering his strong finish last season. He was out of options, and general manager Mike Rizzo said last week that he would definitely make the team. Now, after spending the past few seasons as a spot starter, Cole has a rotation spot he has been chasing for years.

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"He's had a good camp, good Spring Training," manager Dave Martinez said. "I liked the way he threw all spring, so hopefully he continues that."

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Cole made his final start of the spring during the home portion of Friday's split-squad games, a 3-1 loss to the visiting Astros. He gave up three runs on five hits in four innings, with five walks and three strikeouts to finish the spring with a 4.85 ERA.

However, Cole's hold on the job could be fragile.

Right-hander Jeremy Hellickson, who signed with the Nats late in the spring, made his Grapefruit League debut in the road half of Friday night's action, a 6-3 win over the Marlins. He gave up one run on three hits in four innings, with four strikeouts and a walk. He focused on throwing his curveball early in the count and trying to find command with all his pitches. But mostly he was happy to be pitching in a game after sitting on the sidelines through the offseason.

"It's just nice to get out there and pitch in a game," Hellickson said. "It's been a long time. I felt good."

Video: WSH@MIA: Hellickson fans Rojas swinging in the 2nd

Even though Friday's outing went well, Hellickson will not be ready in time for Opening Day. The Nationals plan to have him remain in Florida for extended spring training when the club breaks camp on Sunday, but he did not have much of an idea about what would come next. His schedule will depend on how well he responds to pitching on Friday.

Once Hellickson's stamina is built up, Washington will have a decision to make, one that could also hinge on how well Cole is pitching. Also waiting in the wings is right-hander Erick Fedde, about whom team officials and scouts raved this spring.

But for now the job belongs to Cole.

Zimmerman should be ready for Opening Day
First baseman Ryan Zimmerman is not scheduled to be in the lineup for Saturday's game against the Marlins, continuing his trend during this unorthodox Spring Training. He has only played in one Grapefruit League game, on March 2, when he had two at-bats.

Zimmerman has not appeared in a game since. The Nationals insist he is neither injured nor nursing any nagging issues. He has been playing in Minor League games, getting plenty of at-bats and preparing for the season there instead of in big league games to help preserve his body and stay fresh.

Video: 30 Clubs in 30 Days: Zimmerman on preparing for 2018

Martinez would not commit to whether Zimmerman would play on Sunday either, so he was asked if Zimmerman is going to be the Opening Day first baseman.

"That's the plan," Martinez said. "He likes where he's at. I'm comfortable with him doing what he's doing. He's a guy that doesn't really like Spring Training and has had a good Spring Training. He says he's ready to go."

Up next
Max Scherzer will make his final tuneup before Opening Day on Saturday at 1:05 p.m. ET when the Nationals host the Marlins at the FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches in a game you can hear on Gameday Audio.

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

Washington Nationals, A.J. Cole, Jeremy Hellickson