James allowed two hits in six innings and the Braves shut out the Nationals 6-0 on Sunday. James walked four and struck out four while lowering his spring ERA to 1.80.
James is penciled in as the Braves' No. 3 starter behind John Smoltz and Tim Hudson. All three have ERAs under 2.00, as do Kyle Davies and Lance Cormier, who are battling for the final spot in the rotation.
"The whole staff has been outstanding all spring," Cox said. "Right now we just want to get out of here healthy."
After his longest outing of the spring, James said he felt like he was rounding into shape despite some control issues.
"It's still going to take a few innings to get to where I want to be," James said. "I am throwing more across my body and making adjustments. As long as they keep hitting it at people, I am in good shape."
James was 11-4 with a 3.74 ERA in 25 games, 18 of them starts for the Braves in 2006.
The Braves lost projected starter Mike Hampton to a strained left oblique two weeks ago, but Cox said Hampton, who missed all of 2006 with an arm injury, is progressing more quickly than expected and may be ready by early May.
Washington starter Matt Chico pitched 3 2-3 innings and allowed six runs, five of them earned, on 10 hits. Chico, whose ERA to 4.76, has already clinched a spot in the Nationals rotation and has been impressive all spring until the Braves lit him up.
"I made some poor pitches and didn't throw my off-speed as much as I wanted to," Chico said. "I got in a rhythm with my fastball and got hurt with it."
The Nationals had some good news when catcher Brian Schneider played for the first time since suffering a hamstring injury last week.
"I felt very good," Schneider said. "I didn't feel it at all. I got to catch a couple innings and got a couple at-bats with no pain at all."