Bad news struck the Nationals clubhouse this afternoon ahead of the opener against the Athletics. Making matters worse, it involves one of their top prospects.
Cade Cavalli, just four days removed from his major league debut, will be shut down for two weeks with right shoulder inflammation, manager Davey Martinez announced to begin his pregame press conference.
Cavalli was charged with seven runs on six hits, two walks and three hit batters while striking out seven and throwing 99 pitches (57 strikes) in his highly anticipated debut Friday against the Reds. When the 24-year-old returned to Nats Park the next day to begin his between-starts program, he reported tightness in his right shoulder. The Nationals stopped him from throwing and ordered an MRI the next day.
“I'm gonna start off by saying that we are going to shut Cade down for two weeks,” Martinez said. “He threw in the game. Came back the next day, was going through his routine, he's playing catch. After about 10 throws, he said he felt tight in the shoulder area. So we shut him down. He came in, we got him an MRI right away.”
The MRI came back mostly clean. There was no damage to the shoulder itself, but there was some inflammation.
“Everything looks good except for he has a little bit of inflammation around the capsule,” Martinez said. “But the labrum tendons, the rotator cuff, everything's very, very clean. So we're gonna be very, very cautious. We talked to Cade. Cade says he feels good today. But we need to be very, very cautious. We're talking about a kid that's part of a big future of ours. So we're gonna take it easy. And hopefully we can knock this out in a couple of weeks and then we'll re-evaluate after that.”
The debut of the Nats’ top pitching prospect was highly anticipated because of how highly rated he was as a prospect and how fast he climbed through the minor league ranks since being a 2020 first-round draft pick.
But it was also noteworthy because of how long the Nationals waited to bring him up, publicly stating they did not want to rush him and were waiting for him to be ready for the major leagues.
Now, after one start, Cavalli will be shut down and placed on the 15-day injured list, which hasn’t been made official yet. Even so, the Nationals are remaining hopeful that his recovery will go well and he will be able to pitch again before the season’s end.
“Well, because of Cade, we'll start with 10 days,” Martinez said when asked why they did not just shut Cavalli down for the season. “He's excited to be here, right? I mean, we're all excited here. But we're gonna do what's right for him and also for our organization. So let's get this cleaned up. Let's shut him down for two weeks. And then, like I said, we'll re-evaluate after that.”
It’s an unfortunate development for Cavalli, who joined the Nationals after a string of really strong starts for Triple-A Rochester. Over his previous seven starts with the Red Wings, Cavalli went 3-1 with a 1.47 ERA, 43 strikeouts, 12 walks and a .180 opponents’ batting average.
“Great, really, really, man,” Martinez said of how the young prospect is handling the news. “Once we told him what it was, he says, ‘Hey, I’ve got to get after it.’ That was his response. 'I’m going to get ready, take this time to do some things that I want to do,' as far as, like, he wants to go in the scouting reports with the pitchers. He wants to learn all that stuff. So he’s been great.”
Yes, a lot of emotions and adrenaline accompany a big league debut. But the Nationals did not notice anything in Cavalli’s outing Friday to suggest an injury was imminent.
“No, nothing,” Martinez said. “Like I said, he stayed after he came out. He felt really good. So it was a surprise to all of us, even to him, that he was sore. And that's how he explained it. Just felt a little bit more discomfort than he has in the past. So we told him to stop throwing. And he did and we got an MRI and this is what it revealed.”
The Nationals have now had three pitching prospects make their major league debuts this season and land on the injured list: Evan Lee with a left flexor strain (June 18), Jackson Tetreault with a stress fracture of the right scapula (July 4, retroactive to July 3) and Cavalli with right shoulder inflammation.
Furthermore, MacKenzie Gore arrived from the Padres in the Juan Soto-Josh Bell trade already on the IL with left elbow inflammation. Tanner Rainey and Joe Ross are recovering from Tommy John surgery. There have been no updates on Stephen Strasburg and the stress reaction in his ribs. Sean Doolittle’s season was cut short due to surgery for a left elbow strain. And Will Harris has been out all season following right pectoral surgery.
With the inclusion of Cavalli, nine of the 11 players on the Nats’ injured list are pitchers. One of the two position players is Carter Kieboom, who is also recovering from Tommy John surgery. The other is Yadiel Hernandez, whose season ended with a left calf strain.
And down on the farm, top pitching prospect Cole Henry is undergoing season-ending surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome.
Cavalli’s case is the latest of the Nationals’ issues with pitching injuries. And it’s something Martinez is aware of while trying to keep his other young pitchers healthy. Guys like Josiah Gray, who had his spot in the rotation skipped this week as precaution so he can finish the season.
“Like I said, with him, as we always talked about Josiah, we're at the point now where we got to be very, very careful with him as well because this is the most innings he has thrown,” Martinez said. “So we're gonna take a really good look at what happens in his next couple of outings and go from there.”
Gray’s next start will be Friday against the Mets in New York. Gore’s next step will be to throw another bullpen with multiple up-downs and about 50 pitches after throwing 35 today.
The Nationals do not yet know who will fill Cavalli’s spot in the rotation on Thursday against the A’s. Cory Abbott could return from Rochester after being optioned last week, as he would be taking the spot of an injured player.