Nationals starter A.J. Cole has been suspended five games and issued an undisclosed fine by Major League Baseball for his role in the benches-clearing altercation between the Nats and Pirates on Sunday in Pittsburgh. The rookie has already decided to appeal the ban.
Cole is in line to pitch for the Nationals on Friday against the Marlins. That start is in jeopardy if the suspension is upheld, or he decides to drop it.
Cole, 24, threw behind Pirates first baseman Jung Ho Kang in the third inning of the Nationals' win over the Pirates. It was after Kang faked a tag at third base on a triple by Bryce Harper, a move that led to Harper jamming his left thumb on the play.
Harper has since missed two games with the injury, but X-rays showed no broken bones. He is expected to return to the Nats soon, possibly on Wednesday.
Cole is 1-2 with a 5.09 ERA this season. He has allowed 12 earned runs in his last 16 2/3 innings pitched. Friday would be his final chance to prove himself before the Nats decide their playoff roster, but he may not get it.
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When Wilson Ramos collapsed to the ground clutching his right knee behind the plate at Nationals Park on Monday night, the Nats feared the worst as it was the same leg in which he had his ACL and MCL repaired back in 2012. On Tuesday, an MRI confirmed those fears. Ramos tore his ACL again and is not only out for the entirety of the postseason, but most of next year as well.
It happened in the final week of the regular season with the Nats preparing for the playoffs. It also happened just over a month before Ramos is set to hit free agency for the first time in his career.
There is never a good time to tear an ACL, but one would be hard pressed to find a worse time for Ramos to do it than now.
“This close to playoffs, his option year. There’s never an opportune time, but this was the most inopportune time for this to happen at this point," manager Dusty Baker said.
"It's unfortunate. Wilson was having an All-Star season, really a breakout season for himself. It's disappointing. I feel bad for him," GM Mike Rizzo said.
Ramos, 29, earned an All-Star nod this year and for good reason. He hit .307 with 22 homers and 80 RBI and emerged as one of the best catchers in baseball.
Now his future hangs in the balance, as it will be much harder to get a lucrative long-term deal in free agency.
Rizzo said it was too soon to know how Ramos can return from re-tearing his ACL.
"He just did it yesterday. We just got the diagnosis. We're going to see what the doctors say and we'll make our assessments after that," Rizzo said.
Baker spoke earlier this year about his hopes for the Nats to re-sign Ramos. On Tuesday he was asked about Ramos' future and alluded to that idea again.
"It’s time for us to, I think as a whole, maybe to take care of him, too, because he’s taken pretty good care of us,” Baker said.
Any decision about Ramos will be made months from now. In the short-term, the Nats have a playoff run to consider as they chase a World Series. In for Ramos will be backups Jose Lobaton and Pedro Severino. Both have filled in well at times this season, but Ramos is leaving big shoes to fill.
“All of our catchers are very good catchers. It’s just that he is not only the top offensive catcher on our team, a big part of our offense, he’s one of the top offensive catchers in baseball. We’ll really miss his offense," Baker said. "I think Loby and Severino can replace (him) on defense, but it’s up to some of the other guys to offset his loss on the offensive side of the ball.”
Lobaton is dealing with a minor right ankle injury, but said he is ready to step in. He was in the starting lineup for Tuesday night's game against the Diamondbacks.
Lobaton is a good friend and longtime teammate of Ramos and spoke to him after the injury was diagnosed.
"He was sad. Anybody can be sad in that moment, in that situation. He’s been playing good all year, doing really good for the team, and now you don’t have a chance to go with the team in the playoffs," Lobaton said. "It’s really sad for me, not only for me but for the team. We’re praying for him and that he can get better soon.”
It won't be easy to move forward without Ramos, but the Nationals have no choice at this point.
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