WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Cade Cavalli will require season-ending Tommy John surgery, a crushing blow to the Nationals and their top pitching prospect two weeks before Opening Day.
An MRI of Cavalli’s right elbow revealed a Grade 3 sprain, which is a complete tear, of the ulnar collateral ligament. Had it been a lesser-grade sprain, it’s possible Cavalli could have avoided surgery and attempted to return sooner via rest and rehab. The complete tear requires surgery to replace the ligament.
“While Cade will not pitch in 2023, he continues to be a very important part of our franchise’s future,” general manager Mike Rizzo said in a statement released by the team, “and we look forward to having him back on the mound.”
The Nationals’ first-round pick in the 2020 draft, Cavalli was making his fourth appearance of the spring Tuesday afternoon and looked dominant through his first 2 2/3 innings, allowing only one of the nine Mets batters he faced to reach base. But then he threw an 87 mph changeup to Brandon Nimmo that sailed high and away of the New York leadoff man, began shaking his right arm and paced around the mound, hunching over in pain.
Manager Davey Martinez, head athletic trainer Paul Lessard and catcher Keibert Ruiz converged around Cavalli, and though the pitcher wanted to try to throw a warmup toss, he was told he needed to depart the game alongside Lessard.
The club scheduled an MRI for Wednesday, the results of which were received later in the day, following the rainout of the Nats’ exhibition game against the Marlins.
The diagnosis did not surprise team officials, whose initial fears were that Cavalli tore his elbow ligament and would require surgery.
The traditional timeline for recovery from Tommy John surgery is 12 to 18 months. If things go smoothly, Cavalli could be cleared to begin throwing in six months and could start to ramp things up over the winter and report to spring training in 2024 ready to go. Given his inexperience and importance to the franchise’s long-term goals, it’s quite possible the Nationals won’t push him to be ready for next Opening Day but rather a month or two into next season, understanding his workload will need to be limited anyway.
Cavalli made his long-awaited major league debut Aug. 26, struggling during a 4 1/3-inning start against the Reds on a muggy Friday night at Nationals Park. He then reported shoulder soreness the following day and wound up not pitching again before season’s end.
The 24-year-old was in good health and good spirits throughout this spring, though, and did not appear to still be dealing with any lingering arm issues until the final, fateful pitch he threw Tuesday.
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