MIAMI – Cade Cavalli’s face lit up as he entered the Nationals clubhouse at loanDepot park this morning. It was the first time he was going to be around his teammates since they broke camp in West Palm Beach back in March.
If only for a few days, the young right-hander is leaving the monotony of rehabbing his right elbow at the Nats' spring training facility after Tommy John surgery and join the team for a weekend back in D.C.
Cavalli arrived with a suitcase and equipment bag in tow. He quickly changed out of his street clothes and into his Nationals gear. Though he won’t pitch this year, he was a part of the team again.
“I'm gonna fly with the team tonight to D.C. and spend the weekend there with them,” Cavalli said with the joy clearly across his face. “It'd be great to be able to get back to D.C. and hang around the guys for more than one day. So I'm really excited about it. It's gonna be a great change of scenery for me. And then right back to Florida, and we're getting right back after it.”
It’s only two months into a lengthy rehab process, but Cavalli has made significant strides that have him and the organization optimistic about his recovery and return next year.
“So on Wednesday was the eight-week mark and we are out of the brace completely,” he said. “We got it completely straight. I'm able to touch my shoulder now. And in about 4 ½ months, we'll start tossing and doing some plyos with it. And we'll go from there. So it's just been a lot of lower-body work. And for the upper body, it's just been kind of the left arm and we're trying to strengthen that. And I guess some science says that if you get all this strengthened, it can transfer over to the right arm a little bit without even working it out. Just how our bodies work, which is wild. So it's been fun learning that about the body and it's been really good. The workout's going great.”
“So far, so good,” manager Davey Martinez said. “He's at the eight-week mark. But he looks good. He's already saying, 'Hey, I can do a lot of things already.' But it's gonna take time. It is Tommy John and there's a scheduled rehab when it comes to that. So it'll take some time, but hopefully we'll get him back sometime in the middle of summer next year.”
Cavalli hurt his elbow during a March 18 spring training start against the Mets in Port St. Lucie. He had been cruising through what was his best start of the spring before his 43rd pitch, an 87-mph changeup, went way high and away, and he shook his right arm. Never a good sign.
An MRI revealed what was expected: a full tear of the ulnar collateral ligament. The former first-round pick and the Nats’ top pitching prospect needed Tommy John surgery ahead of his first full major league season.
The next steps include just strengthening the arm as best he can.
“The next step will be super lightweight,” he said. “Getting the forearm strengthened. And I think that's just gonna be the main focus, is kind of getting the hand right, because they take the tendon from right here. So it is pretty stiff, and the flexibility in the hand is not quite there right now. So we're just gonna be working on that. And getting that strengthened and more flexible.”
It’s a tough blow for any pitcher, nonetheless a promising 24-year-old prospect. But Cavalli has had a support system in West Palm in Tanner Rainey and Sean Doolittle. They are also recovering from elbow injuries, Rainey a little ahead in his own Tommy John rehab and Doolittle with a similar, but less invasive, procedure.
“It's great. The atmosphere there is great,” Cavalli said. “We get in there and we know we all have an end goal in mind of what's happening. And we're there supporting each other, checking in on each other because there can be some lonely days down there. That's the truth of it. But whenever you're around those guys, you feel better. So it's just we get in there, we do our work and we're supporting each other. That's the vibe that's going on down there and it's really good.”
Cavalli has also found support from a close friend that is currently with the Nats. Jake Irvin, who recovered from his own Tommy John surgery last year, was Cavalli’s teammate at the University of Oklahoma. The two were also roommates during spring training, so Irvin was there when Cavalli received the news.
“When I came home after I found out the news, my fiancé was there, thankfully. Her season ended the day before I hurt my elbow,” Cavalli said. “But I came home and Irv was there. And he just kind of sat me down, he was like, 'Look, this is a it is what it is kind of deal. But you have an opportunity to go get better and get this thing right and take care of it the way he did.' He's a leader in that way. And a great example for it.”
At the beginning of the season, it was tough for Cavalli to watch every Nats game, the reality that he wasn’t going to pitch this year still fresh in his mind. But he’s been keeping up with the team more and more, especially watching Irvin make his major league debut and stick with the club.
“It's just been so exciting for me,” he said. “I've seen since the college days, five or six years ago. I talk very highly of him because I've personally seen it. I've seen the work and the kind of human he is and the dedication and the sacrifices that he's made. And being able to see him have this success, you love seeing that. And it really excites me for him, and very, very happy for him.”
The two are obviously very close. Cavalli was clearly excited to be back with the Nats this morning, getting a lot of hugs as the rest of the team arrived in the clubhouse.
But the biggest hug came from Irvin, as the two embraced for a moment and chatted for a while at Cavalli’s locker.
There will be more time for such moments when Cavalli joins the Nats back in D.C. It’s just a couple of days and doesn’t speed up his recovery at all. But it’s still an important moment for the young righty.
“It's awesome,” Martinez said. “And for me, that was kind of the plan to get him here. He's really close to some of the guys here already. So get him here, and like I said, let him just hang out for a little while with them and kind of get our guys as well to see him and be a little bit upbeat about it. So I was excited to see him. He looks different. I said, 'You got a crew cut.' So I was like, 'Wow!' But he's excited. Like I said, I'm excited that he's around.”
“Being back here is amazing,” Cavalli said. “As you guys can tell, I just feel like a new energy. I miss these guys a ton. So it's great to be able to be around them and then get to watch them play some ball, something that I'm missing a lot right now. So it's exciting that I get to be here in person, watch them compete and be by their side and support it.”
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