Cavalli departs in third, headed for MRI on elbow (updated)

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. – The first 42 pitches of Cade Cavalli’s afternoon were some of the best he’s thrown this spring. The rookie right-hander was pumping out 97 mph fastballs and mixing in curveballs, sliders and a couple of changeups, retiring eight of the first nine Mets hitter he faced and surrendering zero hard contact.

"I think that's the best I've seen him since I've known him," catcher Keibert Ruiz remarked.

And then Cavalli threw his 43rd pitch of the afternoon, an 87-mph changeup that veered way high and away from left-handed batter Brandon Nimmo, and "felt something behind his throwing elbow," according to manager Davey Martinez, who made his way from the dugout alongside head athletic trainer Paul Lessard to have the kind of conversation no pitcher ever wants to have in that moment.

Cavalli, who was not made available to reporters, would depart the game a few moments later with Lessard by his side, a look of dejection on his face.

It may be awhile until official word comes down on Cavalli's status - he's scheduled to have an MRI on his elbow Wednesday, with results perhaps to be read by multiple doctors - but it's not inappropriate to fear the organization’s top pitching prospect suffered a significant injury a little more than two weeks away from Opening Day, perhaps tearing his elbow ligament.

"I'm not going to assume anything, because these things could be … you don't know what it's going to be," Martinez following an otherwise encouraging 5-0 exhibition win. "But we're going to get an MRI on him tomorrow, and we'll see what's going on."

Things had been going swimmingly for Cavalli up until that fateful moment. Making his second start of the spring after a couple of relief appearances to begin the month, he looked every bit like the elite power pitcher he’s been touted as since the Nationals used their first round pick on him in the 2020 draft.

Cavalli retired the side in the first, getting both Nimmo and Starling Marte and throwing 11 of his 13 pitches for strikes. He issued a one-out walk to Mark Canha in the second but nothing else, retiring Luis Guillorme on a weak comebacker that led to some back-and-forth jawing between the two and striking out Mark Vientos with an 0-2 curveball.

The positive vibes continued in the bottom of the third when Cavalli induced two more groundball outs, completing his first trip through the New York lineup with no hits allowed. With perhaps four more outs left on the docket, he wasn’t just putting together his best start of the spring. He was well on his way to the best start by any member of the Nats rotation this spring to date.

"He looked unbelievable," Martinez said. "I was pumped up, excited. He was throwing the ball really well."

But with the count 1-1 on Nimmo, Cavalli got the changeup sign from Ruiz and delivered a pitch that sailed high and wide. The right-hander reacted the way you’d expect a pitcher who just felt something out of the ordinary to react, shaking his right arm and then pacing around the mound.

Nimmo noticed it first and informed Ruiz, who signaled to the dugout. Ruiz, Martinez and Lessard then converged at the mound to hear what happened straight from Cavalli. A few minutes later, the 24-year-old was walking back to the dugout alongside Lessard as everyone else in the organization held its collective breath.

"I saw as soon as he threw the last pitch, he was doing something different with his arm," Ruiz said. "That's why we called time, and Davey and the trainer went out there. I hope everything will be fine. I feel bad for him. And for us, obviously, it's bad news. But we've just got to pray for him and hope everything's good."

Though he hadn’t officially been named a member of the Opening Day rotation yet, Cavalli was lined up to be the No. 5 starter, behind Patrick Corbin, Josiah Gray, MacKenzie Gore and Trevor Williams. His place at the end of the rotation was not a suggestion he’s the worst of the five, but rather evidence of the care the Nationals planned to take with their prized prospect, who would be on some kind of innings limit this season.

The Nats took their time calling Cavalli up from Triple-A Rochester last summer, waiting until late August to make the move. He wound up starting only one game, laboring through 4 1/3 innings against the Reds on a muggy evening. The following day, he reported shoulder soreness. The Nationals, not wanting to take any chances, shut him down and he did not return before season’s end.

Cavalli had shown no signs of any physical issues this spring prior to today, and he spoke multiple times over the last month about how strong he felt.

"No, he was throwing the ball well," Martinez said. "His routine was really, really good. Every time we talked to him, he said he felt great. ... The thing is, you saw what he can possibly be. But we've got to get him healthy."

If he’s unable to open the season, the Nats would have to dip into an already thin crop of rotation depth pieces to fill his spot. Among their options: Veterans Chad Kuhl and Wily Peralta (both in camp on minor league deals), younger starters Cory Abbott, Joan Adon and Jake Irvin (all previously optioned to Triple-A) or veteran swingman Paolo Espino (expected to be a long reliever).

"I think we have enough guys in camp that can fill the void, that are actually getting stretched out," Martinez said. "You saw Espino today throw three innings (in relief). That's good. Abbott's going to get stretched out. Irvin's going to get stretched out. ... I'm not going to do anything hasty until we get him checked out."

O's recent roster changes move Ortiz to minor leag...
Orioles option Drew Rom to minor league camp

By accepting you will be accessing a service provided by a third-party external to