Cavalli to make MLB debut Friday night in D.C.

SEATTLE – Cade Cavalli – and Nationals fans – don’t have to wait any longer. The organization’s top pitching prospect will make his major league debut Friday night.

Manager Davey Martinez made it official today, confirming the 24-year-old right-hander will start Friday’s series opener against the Reds, with a plan to have him continue to pitch every five or six days the rest of the season.

“We’re excited,” Martinez said. “He’s checked a lot of the boxes. With that being said, with all of our young guys, part of the process is patience. We’re going to get him up here and get him going, and see how he does. But he’s done well in Rochester, really well, as the numbers will indicate.”

Cavalli’s season-long numbers at Triple-A (3.71 ERA, 1.175 WHIP, 104 strikeouts in 97 innings) are solid but not spectacular. But over his last 13 starts, he’s been electric (2.10 ERA, 1.019 WHIP, 77 strikeouts in 68 2/3 innings), capped off by a 109-pitch outing Saturday against Worcester in which he had seven strikeouts through his first three innings.

In promoting him now, the Nationals have set it up for Cavalli to make his first two starts at home against non-contenders (Friday vs. the Reds, Sept. 1 vs. the Athletics) before the team faces mostly NL East contenders during the season’s final month.

Barring any health concerns, the Nats intend for Cavalli to be in their rotation through the season’s final five weeks.

“We want to see him pitch,” Martinez said. “We want to see him compete. We don’t want to see him sitting for a long period of time. We want to get him out there.”

The 22nd overall pick in the 2020 draft out of Oklahoma, Cavalli has been regarded as the best pitching prospect in a farm system lacking in many of those since he made his professional debut last year. He climbed through three levels of the minors in 2021, dominating at both Single-A and Double-A before struggling late last season at Triple-A. After pitching in big league camp this spring, he was optioned to Rochester and spent the last 4 1/2 months there, waiting for the call.

All the while, the Nationals were tempted to promote Cavalli. And all the while, they kept him in the minors until they were sure he had progressed to the point they believed he was ready for the final promotion.

“We’ve really got to understand that he’s worked really hard, but yet he’s fairly young, especially young to the pitching part of it,” Martinez said. “There’s going to be a little bit of a process. We all want him to do well. We want him to come up here and succeed. But we’re going to have to take our time with him. He’s still learning a lot of different things. But his stuff definitely plays. We’ll get an opportunity get him up here, put no pressure on him and just let him compete.”

Cavalli will start the opener of a three-game weekend series against the Reds, with Paolo Espino and Patrick Corbin following him. The team hasn’t announced its rotation for next week’s series against the A’s yet, but Martinez said Josiah Gray will have his next turn skipped as the organization seeks to spread out the 24-year-old’s innings to ensure he’s still pitching at season’s end.

The Nationals hope, by late September, to feature a rotation that includes Cavalli, Gray and MacKenzie Gore, the highly rated lefty acquired from the Padres in this month’s Juan Soto-Josh Bell trade. Gore has been recovering from elbow inflammation, but he was scheduled to throw off a bullpen mound today for the first time since the trade, and he’s now on a path that would have him come off the IL and make at least a few starts for the Nats this season alongside his fellow young rotation mates.

“I can’t wait to see that myself,” Martinez said. “I’ll be the biggest fan to see all three of those guys pitching. And there’s a good chance it will happen. MacKenzie is doing well. He’s right on schedule to possibly pitch this year, but we’ve still got a long way to go.”

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