Despite final result, Cavalli’s debut still significant start for Nats

It did not come with the fanfare and electricity of Stephen Strasburg’s major league debut on the same mound in 2010.

There were not 40,315 fans on their feet for the duration of the game. There was no national audience nor local news channel cameras packing the press box.

And the end result was certainly not the same.

No, Cade Cavalli’s major league debut was not the second coming of Strasmas. But it was the first wave of the Nationals’ top prospects reaching the major leagues, and a significant sign of what they’re trying to accomplish with this rebuild.

Cavalli didn’t match Strasburg’s incredible 14-strikeout performance on June 8, 2010. But no one expected him to, and the Nationals didn’t need him to repeat that.

They need him to repeatedly make starts and continue to grow in the major leagues. Hopefully into a top-three pitcher in their rotation of the future.

“You can't really judge a kid's first outing because like I said, I know that the nerves, regardless of what they tell you, the nerves are there,” manager Davey Martinez said. “And he wants to impress, he wants to show that he belongs here. So baby steps. But I thought the stuff was really good.”

Make judgments? Of course not. But that’s not to say we can’t analyze the outing. It’s his first major league data point.

The Nats’ top pitching prospect finished 4 ⅓ innings against the Reds last night, giving up six hits, seven runs, two walks and three hit batters while striking out six. But that doesn’t tell the whole story.

If CJ Abrams doesn’t commit a throwing error in the top of the first, Cavalli is only charged with one run in his first inning instead of two. If Luis García and Abrams are able to turn a double play in the fifth, Cavalli may be only charged with one run instead of the eventual three.

Cavalli did flash the stuff that excites the Nationals. His fastball averaged 95 mph and topped out close to 98. His changeup induced six of his 13 swings and misses while also striking out four. And his curveball was responsible for two strikeouts while landing in nice spots down in the zone.

He threw 57 of his 99 pitches for strikes. But a lot of his misses were right outside the strike zone. The Reds hitters just didn’t bite.

The difference between Triple-A and major league hitters.

But the 24-year-old also put himself into some trouble. Three consecutive hits, including back-to-back doubles, in the third resulted in two earned runs. He hit three batters over his last three starts at Rochester and then hit three in his first major league outing.

It did seem like he was dealing with grip issues as he was very sweaty on the mound and frequently messed around with the dirt and rosin bag.

But again, last night was not about results. It was about what Cavalli’s debut meant to an organization that is in full rebuild mode, hoping their top prospects are the faces of the future.

Last night was two years in the making after the Nationals selected Cavalli with the 22nd overall pick in the 2020 MLB Draft. At the time, the two-way player out of Oklahoma was considered a top-10 talent that fell to the Nats because he had just started pitching full-time.

“It was talked about for a while and that's something that's very hard to ignore as a player, because it's popping up, and your teammates and everyone's talking about it,” Cavalli said postgame of his highly anticipated debut. “But the biggest mental challenge for me was being able to just stay present. … Every single day I had to wake up and just be like, I'm gonna be present here in Triple-A and get better so that if I do get the opportunity to get here, I want to make a statement. And that's what I'm trying to do and I was just trying to stay present.”

Cavalli proved those pre-draft reports right. While he stayed present mentally, he flew up the Nationals farm system last year and finally reached the majors on Friday.

From 2012-2020, the Nationals selected seven starting pitchers in the first round. Erick Fedde was the last one to make his major league debut in 2017 before Cavalli last night.

Even though it was in front of a scant 31,256 fans and in a losing effort, seeing Cavalli take the same mound as Strasburg so quickly was a good sign of things to come.

Especially for an organization that is not only rebuilding the roster, but the entire front office, scouting and player development departments, and minor league system.

“Yeah, I think it's a very exciting time to be a Nat,” Cavalli said. “We got a lot of good guys in this locker room. You look around and I see some ballplayers, and I'm very excited about it. We're gonna be there. We're gonna be good. So I'm very excited.”

“It feels good because I'm in the same process,” Keibert Ruiz, who caught Cavalli, said of growing alongside fellow young players. “I want to learn and think they want to learn, too. So we just got to work together.”

And this wasn’t simply a spot start where he gets sent back down afterwards. Cavalli is here to stay. The Nationals insisted all year long they weren’t going to bring him up until he was ready. He’s ready now, and he’s going to give them around seven more starts before the end of season.

“He's gonna do well,” Martinez said. “So we'll get him out there again in five days and we'll see what happens.”

Each one will be worth a watch.

“Yeah, I do,” Martinez said of seeing Cavalli’s debut as the next wave of the future. “With that being said also, there's a lot of things that we still need to do. But this is a big piece of what we're trying to do. … Get Cade up here. We're gonna see what the future may bring. It's his first day here, so I don't want to put anything on him. But we're all excited that he's here. And I think, like I said, he's got the stuff to pitch here. So let him go out there, let him do his thing. So it'll be a lot of fun. A lot of excitement.”

Game 127 lineups: Nats vs. Reds
Cavalli struggles to get a grip in erratic debut (...

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