Cavalli selected, García reinstated and Franco released

Happy Cade Cavalli Day to all who celebrate!

The Nationals made it official by selecting the contract of their top pitching prospect for his major league debut, one of several roster moves made before tonight’s series opener against the Reds.

When the 2020 first-round pick takes the mound at Nats Park, he will become the 24th pitcher drafted, signed and developed by the Nationals (2005-present) to start a game for Washington.

Cavalli is the No. 52 prospect in all of baseball, according to Baseball America, and No. 58 according to MLB Pipeline. He leads qualified Nationals minor leaguers with a .215 opponents’ batting average and ranks second in ERA (3.71), strikeouts (104) and WHIP (1.18). He went 6-4 with a 3.71 ERA in 20 starts for Triple-A Rochester this season.

More recently, the 24-year-old has been nothing short of dominant. Over his last seven starts, Cavalli went 3-1 with a 1.47 ERA, 43 strikeouts, 12 walks and a .180 opponents’ batting average. He didn’t allow an earned run in 15 ⅔ consecutive innings, recording 16 strikeouts and three walks in three starts from July 6 to July 27. In his last two starts with the Red Wings, Cavalli struck out 19 batters, allowing just five walks to go along with a 1.50 ERA and a .128 opponents’ batting average (5-for-39).

All of that success has brought a lot of hype to what should be an exciting debut on South Capitol Street.

“I'm excited about it,” manager Davey Martinez said during his pregame press conference. “I know he's excited to be here. I spoke to him for a little bit. He's good to go, he's ready to go. So just go out there and take my emotions aside, just go out and watch him compete. That's what we're doing.

“I talked to him a little bit about trying to get strike one. Trying to work ahead of hitters, controlling his heartbeat, but most of all, just go out there and have fun. I said, 'You deserve to be here. You've done well. And you're gonna be here.' So just go out there and just compete and have some fun.”

Cavalli, having completed seven innings two starts ago and throwing 109 pitches in his last start, will have no leash on him tonight. The Nationals are comfortable with the young pitcher and the game dictating how long he goes.

“There is none,” Martinez said of possible restrictions on Cavalli. “He's been up to, like I said, he's thrown 110 pitches. So we're gonna go out there and watch him. Treat him just like we treat any other starting pitcher here.”

Another element of the excitement surrounding Nationals Park tonight is the return of Luis García from the injured list. The young infielder landed on the 15-day IL on Aug. 15 (retroactive to Aug. 13) with a left groin strain.

When he was deemed ready to resume play, García went on a short rehab assignment with Rochester, where he got back into game shape and re-adjusted to playing second base. CJ Abrams has taken over everyday shortstop duties at the major league level, so the Nats have been waiting for García’s return to get a glimpse at their possible middle infield of the future.

“Well, he went to play a rehab game to play just six innings the first game. He ended up playing nine,” Martinez said of García’s rehab assignment. “So that tells me that he's pretty good. So let him go out there. He's gonna play. He's gonna play second base. So I'm really looking forward to watching him and Abrams play together. That will be a lot of fun. And I'm curious to see how they do together up the middle. So we're excited about that as well. So he's just gonna go out there and play. I told him, I said, 'Hey, just be honest with me. If you feel anything, just let me know right away. But you're gonna go out there and you're going to play every day until I think you need a day off.'”

García appeared in three rehab games at Triple-A, going 2-for-10 (.200) with a double, two walks and two stolen bases. He has hit .289 with 13 doubles, two triples, four homers, 25 RBIs, four walks and 18 runs scored in 60 games with the Nationals.

The Nationals had to make one more roster move today to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for Cavalli after they filled the one open spot they had yesterday by claiming right-hander Tommy Romero from the Rays. That move was the unconditional release of Maikel Franco, an unfortunate end to his time with the Nats on his 30th birthday. It was also, unfortunately, written on the walls ever since Ildemaro Vargas started playing third base every day.

“It was tough. I love the guy,” Martinez said of releasing Franco. “I mean, he's unbelievable. Clubhouse, teammate, he did everything. We felt like we're going in another direction. We like the way Vargas has been playing. We know that Vargas can do a lot of different things in the infield. So it's unfortunate. But in this game, like I said, it's the toughest part of my job that I have to do is tell somebody that he's no longer going to be with us. But yet, there's still other teams out there. And I told him, 'If I could help you in any way possible, my number doesn't change no matter what. So you can call me anytime.'”

Franco signed a minor league deal with the Nationals over the offseason and became the everyday third baseman when Carter Kieboom needed Tommy John surgery before the start of the regular season. He hit .229 with 15 doubles, nine home runs, 39 RBI, 12 walks and 31 runs scored in 103 games.

This now brings questions about what will happen to César Hernández, another veteran infielder who has had his playing time limited by upcoming youngsters. The 32-year-old had still been playing second base regularly in García’s absence. But now he will get fewer starting opportunities, and perhaps more time at another position.

“I'm gonna talk to César,” Martinez said. “As you know, we're gonna play Luis and Abrams every day. But there's a possibility he might be able to play some third base, and he's already taking ground balls there. So I'll talk to him about that. I'll also talk to him about maybe even playing in the outfield a little bit as well. I know he's done that. But he could possibly do that as well. So I'll find ways to kind of get him in. I just don't want to sit there for five weeks. So he'll definitely get some time in different positions.”

For those curious about Romero, who was optioned to Rochester, the 25-year-old pitched in three games for the Rays this year and had a 3.51 ERA in 66 ⅔ innings at Triple-A. The Nationals see him as a depth piece while he’ll get the opportunity to start with the Red Wings.

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