Nationals’ Cade Cavalli shows potential in MLB debut but still has work to do

Cavalli shows potential in MLB debut but still has work to do originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

WASHINGTON — Cade Cavalli is the player Nationals fans have clamored to see for months. The hard-throwing righty entered the season as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball and as the team piled up the losses at a historic rate, Cavalli found his footing and put together an impressive three-month stretch in Triple-A Rochester.

That improvement earned him his first career MLB start Friday against the Cincinnati Reds at Nationals Park. His final stat line won’t blow anyone away: four and a third innings, six hits, seven runs (all earned), two walks, six strikeouts and three hit batters on 99 pitches (57 strikes). But the Nationals got their first chance to test their 2020 first-round pick against MLB competition and he showed flashes of the player they hope he can be.

“You can’t really judge a kid’s first outing,” manager Davey Martinez said in his postgame press conference. “I know that the nerves, regardless of what they tell you, the nerves are there, right? He wants to impress. He wants to show that he belongs here. So, baby steps. But I thought the stuff was really good. I really did.”

He had some tough breaks along the way. The 24-year-old looked like he was going to get out of the first inning unscathed when shortstop C.J. Abrams made a good play to grab a groundball up the middle, but first baseman Luke Voit couldn’t pick Abrams’s wide throw and two runs crossed before the inning was up. Cavalli also departed with the bases loaded in the fifth and reliever Erasmo Ramírez allowed all three inherited runners to score.

Cavalli was also covered in sweat for most of the humid D.C. evening. The 24-year-old admitted to having some trouble gripping the ball but blamed himself for not using the mound dirt enough to dry his hand off. Overall, he felt good about his mentality throughout the game and credited meditation for his ability to not let the pressure get to him.

“I think a pro is just how I felt my presence on the mound,” Cavalli said. “I felt very comfy, at home. Like I said, I really thought I was gonna be more nervous and I liked how I felt. I liked my mental space up there. There was no panic. I felt very composed. But I gotta execute more. It comes down to that: You gotta execute pitches and I didn’t do that tonight. I didn’t put my team in a position to win a ballgame. I gotta be better.”

He mixed all four of his pitches in during the game, though only 40% were fastballs. Martinez said he wants to encourage Cavalli to lean more on the four-seamer, a pitch that sits in the upper 90s and can touch triple digits. He threw almost as many curveballs (33%), two of which hit opposing batters. That has been his primary offspeed pitch since college, but Martinez was more impressed with his changeup: “It will play here.”

The promising starter will get a chance to stick in the Nationals’ rotation the rest of the year and work more closely with catcher Keibert Ruiz, who had only caught him once before in Triple-A last season.

“I think he pitched well,” Ruiz said through a team interpreter. “Despite those last few runs that came in, he was competing the whole time and stayed in the game. Being his first big-league start, he was doing what we expected and making his pitches and competing. I think he could’ve done a little better if we were a little more in sync.”

With Cavalli in the majors, the Nationals’ crop of young players looking to establish themselves is starting to take shape. Though overshadowed by Cavalli’s debut, Abrams and second baseman Luis García played on opposite sides of the Nationals’ middle infield for the first time Friday as well. Ruiz was behind the plate, right-hander Josiah Gray in the dugout and southpaw MacKenzie Gore working his way back from an injury.

It’s a group Cavalli is excited to be a part of for the rest of this year and, if he can live up to the promise he showed in the minors, once the club is ready to contend again.

“I think it’s a very exciting time to be a Nat,” Cavalli said. “We got a lot of good guys in this locker room and you look around and I see some ballplayers and I’m very excited about it. We’re gonna be there, we’re gonna be good so I’m very excited.”

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