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Could a bulked-up A.J. Cole crack the Nats' 2016 rotation?

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Could a bulked-up A.J. Cole crack the Nats' 2016 rotation?

With the departure of Jordan Zimmermann, and the expected loss of Doug Fister in free agency as well, the Nationals' starting rotation currently projects to look like this: Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Joe Ross and Tanner Roark. Top prospect Lucas Giolito is seen by some as the darkhorse No. 6, as he will participate in his first MLB spring training this year and is getting closer and closer to being major league-ready.

But what about A.J. Cole? Cole - who turned 24 on Monday - is another promising young right-hander in the Nationals organization and one that already got his first experience in the majors in 2015. Barring another offseason addition, Cole would seem to have at least an outside shot at competing for a starting spot in Viera.

Cole doesn't know what his role will be, whether that is starting in the majors or as a reliever, but in preparation for 2016 he has highlighted gaining weight as one of his primary goals.

"I found a new workout place and I'm really getting into it. I'm trying to put on a lot of weight," he explained. "Just to keep up stamina and everything like that because a lot of times you drop weight once you go into spring training, so I just wanted to get a little more weight and help the body out a little bit."

Cole was listed at 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds in 2015, but hopes to report to spring training much bigger than that. He is working with a nutritionist who has added more protein to his diet and is closely monitoring his calorie intake. 

Cole pointed to stamina as a potential benefit of the added weight, but he wonders if it could help his velocity as well. Cole already boasts a mid-90s fastball.

"You never know. Sometimes it could help somebody gain velocity, sometimes you heard it's had people lose velocity. But at the same time I'm not just putting on the weight, like bad weight or anything like that. I'm always keeping the stretching and mobility and everything like that," he said.

Cole's first year with the Nationals did not go as well as he would have hoped, as he gave up six earned runs in three appearances (9.1 IP). Some in the Nats' organization wondered if they rushed his development by bringing him up too early.

But just having reached the majors, Cole believes, has benefitted him as a pitcher.

"When I got up here, you start listening to the guys talk, you pick their [brain] every once in a while. We have a lot of great guys on this staff, Gio [Gonzalez], [Max] Scherzer. Watching them pitch, I learn by watching a lot of times, I don't always have to ask and talk. I can do a lot by just watching somebody and then every now and then you can ask them and get little hints of how they approach certain guys and why they do certain things," he said.

Cole also explained how he learned a lot as a young kid watching John Smoltz. His family lived in Florida and Braves games were available on TV. Cole modeled much of his game after Smoltz, whom he says had similar pitching mechanics to how Cole now throws.

Smoltz is one of the best success stories in baseball history when it comes to pitchers who have thrived both as starters and relievers. Cole is ready for whatever the Nationals ask of him in 2016.

"Whatever they want me as right now. I love being a starter and that's what I've always been. But if they want me as a relief pitcher, or anything like that right now, that's what I'll do," he said.

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With Ross placed on 60-day DL, Nationals agree to 1-year deal with veteran reliever

With Ross placed on 60-day DL, Nationals agree to 1-year deal with veteran reliever

WASHINGTON  -- The Washington Nationals say they have agreed to a one-year deal with 40-year-old reliever Joaquin Benoit.

The team announced the move Wednesday, along with placing pitcher Joe Ross on the 60-day disabled list as he recovers from Tommy John surgery in July.

The Nationals didn't release terms of the agreement, though a person with knowledge of the deal told The Associated Press on Monday that it was for $1 million.

The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the deal wasn't official at the time.

MORE NATIONALS: FULL 2018 SPRING TRAINING SCHEDULE

Benoit is a right-hander who first reached the big leagues in 2001. 

He has played for eight teams, finishing last year with Pittsburgh.

He has 764 career appearances, going 58-49 with a 3.83 ERA and 53 saves.

RELATED: 2018 MLB BETTING ODDS

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It's Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

It's Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

So if you have not heard, Bryce Harper is going to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2018 season.

All off-season talking heads, baseball aficionados, radio hosts, etc. were speculating on where the outfielder’s destination will be next year.

And we are still a year away from it actually happening.

RELATED: VEGAS SETS OVER/UNDERS FOR 2018 MLB SEASON

Reporting to spring training on Monday, Harper did not waste any time telling the media how his press conferences were going to play out this season.

“If guys do [ask], or talk anything about that, I will be walking right out the door.”

Entering his seventh season with the Washington Nationals, the 25-year-old is coming off the second-best season, statistically, of his career. The 2015 NL MVP has hit .285 in his career, with 150 home runs and 421 RBIs. Unquestionably he is the face of the Nationals’ organization, if not, the best player in the team’s history.

If he does end the season without a contract extension, he will join Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, and Barry Bonds as the top sought out free agents in MLB history.

One thing is for certain in terms of Harper’s free agency; Harper has given no inclination on where his landing spot will be.  The top three cities are of course his favorite childhood team, the New York Yankees; joining with one of his closest friends with the Chicago Cubs; or just staying with Washington.

Wherever he does land, it does appear that it will be the largest contract given to a free agent ever.

As for now we just wait and direct any of your calls to his agent Scott Boras.

READ ALSO: NATIONALS FULL SPRING TRAINING SCHEDULE