Camaraderie growing with young injured players around clubhouse

The Nationals have been building a lot on the field over the past couple of years. The rebuilding process to return to a highly competitive level is never easy. They have made significant strides, while currently looking at one of their more successful seasons in a while.

But what they are building off the field may be just as important as the on-field results.

General manager Mike Rizzo has put together a nucleus of young players tasked with carrying this team back to the top of the baseball world. Manager Davey Martinez has been tasked with getting all of those young pieces to mesh.

Unfortunately, two of those young pieces have been sidelined for most of this year: Josiah Gray, who landed on the 15-day injured list after just two starts, and Cade Cavalli, who is still on his way back from last year’s Tommy John surgery.

Yes, their progress on the mound has slowed. But their development as teammates, key individuals in the clubhouse and pieces of this franchise’s future has actually grown.

Gray has been around the club throughout his rehab over the last two months. Tomorrow will be the first time he’s left the team since landing on the IL when he heads to Single-A Fredericksburg for his first rehab start.

Cavalli has shuttled back and forth between the team and its facility in West Palm Beach, where the top pitching prospect has done most of his rehab. But the Nats have made a point to have their former first-round pick meet them whenever they are in Miami and have him travel with the team back to D.C. when they can. As he gets ready for his next rehab start (when and where is still to be determined), he’s been in the clubhouse at Nats Park all week and will travel with the team to Detroit next week, when he’ll throw his next bullpen session and maybe a live batting practice.

Just because they can’t pitch in games doesn’t mean they don't have an effect on the team.

“These guys are a big part of our future,” Martinez said. “Josiah was a big part of our success in the past. So having him around, having him back, he gets along with everybody and the guys love him. I don't want them to be away from us that long. I want them to hang out and be with us. But yeah, make sure that they get all the work in and get ready to help us win. That's the key. I want them here, but I also know what they're going through and I want them back here. Like I said, get those two guys healthy and back, they're gonna help out our rotation. Good things will come.”

The two injured starters would like to help out the rotation sooner rather than later. With Gray’s rehab assignment officially starting, a literal 30-day clock begins before the Nats must reinstate him or shut him down. Meanwhile, Cavalli can see the light at the end of the long tunnel that is Tommy John recovery, but the Nationals are being extra cautious with him.

So far, the team is expressing no concerns about Cavalli’s recovery and still citing July as the target for his return. But since his own rehab assignment clock started on May 20, he’s only made three starts, with one coming in an intrasquad game on the back fields in West Palm. He made a start with High-A Wilmington on May 30, but with a bullpen and possibly a live BP coming up next week, his next actual start won’t be for almost two weeks (or more) after his previous one.

Still, Cavalli is making good use of his time in the clubhouse, developing relationships with his teammates and dissecting games as if he were the next guy up.

“He's awesome,” the skipper said. “He fits right in with all of the guys. He goes out there during the games. He watches everything. He's watching hitters. He talks to our pitchers about what he's seeing, how to face hitters and stuff. It's good knowledge for him. When he comes back, he might have to face the Braves, or whoever we're playing. So it's good for him to go out there and be around the guys. He's worked really hard to get back and we can't wait to get him back fully.”

Gray and Cavalli are currently still helping out the rotation. They attend pitching meetings and talk with their fellow hurlers during games. They soak up information from pitching coach Jim Hickey, pitching strategist Sean Doolittle, and veterans Patrick Corbin and Trevor Williams. They also bounce ideas off their fellow young starters MacKenzie Gore, Jake Irvin, Mitchell Parker and the newest addition, DJ Herz.

Cavalli, especially, has developed relationships with the younger starters after spending more time in the Nats’ minor league system than Gray, who has been a major leaguer since he was acquired from the Dodgers at the 2021 trade deadline.

“For Cade, he's known Mitchell, he's known DJ for a little bit now,” Martinez said. “So having those guys around, knowing that he's been around before, definitely helps them settle in a little bit. So I feel like I'm getting a little older. I'm trying not to, but seeing all these young guys here. But it's been a lot of fun. It really has. As you know, Mitchell's done really well. Jake is doing well. DJ threw the ball well for the first time he's been in the big leagues. So I'm excited about what the future brings to this team.”

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