Cavalli dominates in return; Nats bullpen streak ends

By this time next week, the Nationals’ farm system could have a brand-new infusion of talent, perhaps a host of well-regarded prospects acquired before Tuesday’s trade deadline, should the organization make the dramatic decision to deal Juan Soto (not to mention Josh Bell, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Finnegan, Carl Edwards Jr. and possibly others) in the final teardown of their once-competitive roster.

All the while, the guy who has been regarded their No. 1 prospect for some time now remains at Triple-A, seemingly knocking on the door for the final promotion that will lead to his major league debut.

Cade Cavalli made another case for that Wednesday night, tossing five scoreless innings on 75 pitches for Rochester against Scranton-Wilkes Barre. The young right-hander allowed three hits, walked three and struck out three to continue his recent surge, albeit in his first start in more than two weeks.

Cavalli hadn’t pitched since July 12, when he abruptly departed a game in the fourth inning with what proved to be a minor finger issue, akin to a blister. Minor as it was, that ailment did prompt the Nationals to hold him out of that weekend’s All-Star Futures Game at Dodger Stadium. They then waited until Wednesday to have him take the mound again, giving him a 15-day break that perhaps helped conserve some innings he’ll still need before season’s end.

Cavalli now sports a 4.03 ERA in 16 total Triple-A starts this season, but he has been trending in an upward direction for a while. Over his last nine starts, he owns a 1.89 ERA and 1.000 WHIP. He hasn’t allowed an earned run in any of his three starts this month.

Whether that’s enough development to convince the Nationals the time is right to call up their 2020 first-round pick remains to be seen. But if they’re looking for ways to promote their future as they potentially part ways with the last vestiges of their past, a Cavalli big league debut in the near future would certainly draw attention.

* Patrick Corbin’s abysmal start (six runs allowed in only two-thirds of an inning) spoiled Wednesday’s game in Los Angeles, but the performance of the Nationals bullpen shouldn’t be ignored, because it continued to be outstanding.

Four relievers (Erasmo Ramirez, Steve Cishek, Jordan Weems, Andres Machado) combined to go 7 1/3 innings in relief of Corbin, allowing just one run. And that one run came at the very end when Machado surrendered a seeing-eye RBI single to Gavin Lux with two outs in the bottom of the eighth.

That proved to be the first run the Nats bullpen allowed, not only in the series with the Dodgers, but going all the way back to last weekend’s series against the Diamondbacks. All told, their relief corps went 21 2/3 scoreless innings over parts of five games.

That was the third-longest such streak in the majors this season, topped only by the Yankees (23 2/3 innings) and Royals (27 2/3 innings). It was the Nationals’ longest scoreless streak since 2018, when their bullpen combined for 22 2/3 consecutive innings without allowing a run.

Ramirez was the unsung hero of Wednesday’s game. After recording two big outs (Mookie Betts, Trea Turner) to escape a jam during Tuesday’s win, the veteran right-hander had the thankless job of replacing Corbin in the first inning the following afternoon. He proceeded to go 3 1/3 innings without allowing a run. All told during a 24-hour stretch, Ramirez pitched four scoreless innings on 44 pitches. (For comparison’s sake, Corbin pitched two-thirds of an inning on 45 pitches.)

“Of course, you never expect that situation,” Ramirez said. “You just play it however it comes. You hope your starter goes as far as they can. But when everything goes shorter, you have to be ready. That’s why you’re part of the bullpen. You can be ready for one inning, one out, two outs or go long distance, whatever you can hold. And today was the moment. They asked me every inning if I felt good to go back out there, and I said: ‘OK, yes, I’m going to do my best.’ ”

Friday morning Nats Q&A
Corbin can't finish first inning in blowout loss (...

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