Could Cavalli's injury change how Nats handle Gray, Gore?

Tuesday’s news about Cade Cavalli, who is going on the injured list and could be done for the season with right shoulder inflammation, was incredibly discouraging for the Nationals.

Now here’s an even more discouraging thought: What if Cavalli’s injury prompts the team to shut down MacKenzie Gore and Josiah Gray before season’s end as well?

That’s certainly on the table, when you consider what Davey Martinez said when asked if the Cavalli situation might make the club more cautious about handling its two other young starters the rest of the way.

“Yeah, we’re going to look at all that stuff,” he said, later adding: “We’re going to spend the next few weeks just watching these guys, watching them progress, and see where we’re at.”

There are concerns about all three of them, for varying reasons.

Cavalli, obviously, has to be treated carefully given that he reported a sore shoulder the day after making his major league debut. Though he didn’t experience any discomfort during that 99-pitch outing against the Reds, it’s not a stretch to wonder if the rookie overexerted himself on a humid August night and only began feeling the effects of it 24 hours later.

For now, the team is saying only that Cavalli will be shut down for two weeks. But here’s the problem: The season ends five weeks from today. Even in a best-case scenario, is he going to start from scratch Sept. 14 and be ready to pitch in another big league game by Oct. 5?

That doesn’t seem likely. What does seem likely is that we won’t be seeing Cavalli pitch in a competitive game again until 2023. Which may well be the right course of action, though that doesn’t make it any less discouraging for an organization and its fan base that was really looking forward to watching the 2020 first round pick make six or seven starts before season’s end.

Gore has been on the 15-day IL with elbow inflammation since the last week of July, or one week before the Nationals acquired him in the Juan Soto-Josh Bell trade. The injury has been considered minor all along, and Gore has made significant progress in building his arm back up. He was throwing from 300 feet Tuesday afternoon with seemingly little effort. He also threw a 35-pitch bullpen session, his second in recent days.

Gore has a head start on Cavalli in the rehab process, but he still doesn’t have that much time to build himself up to the point where he’s ready to throw five innings in a big league game. It seems like he may not be able to make more than one or two starts in late September, if the Nationals believe that’s worth it.

“I don’t want these guys going into the winter – especially MacKenzie – knowing that he was on the IL,” Martinez said. “We want to see him. Who knows what we’re going to do, whether it’s maybe have him throw a (simulated) game. But just make sure that he gets out there and throws it, so that he feels comfortable going into the winter saying: ‘Look, I felt great. Now I can go ahead and do my winter program and be ready for spring training.’ ”

There is no current injury for Gray, who has been quite physically strong throughout his first big league season. But the Nationals did skip his last turn in the rotation as they try to limit his innings total for the year. Gray is slated to return to start Friday night against the Mets, but club officials are very cognizant of the fact he’s already thrown 123 1/3 innings, nearly matching his career-high total of 130 from 2019, when he pitched in Single-A and Double-A in the Dodgers system.

He may not be reporting any physical issues, but as his workload rises and his fellow young pitching prospects are held back as a precaution, would it surprise anyone if Gray ultimately isn’t allowed to finish the season?

“These are the little things that we definitely are looking at moving forward,” Martinez said. “Because our pitching is so young that we have to consider a lot of these different things."

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