How Nationals will try to compensate for loss of Cavalli

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – The loss of Cade Cavalli to Tommy John surgery is a crushing blow to the 24-year-old right-hander and to the Nationals, who were hoping their top pitching prospect would enjoy a healthy run of success in his first big league season.

Cavalli may still enjoy a long run of success in 2024 and beyond. But in the meantime, the Nats have to figure out who’s going to cover the starts and innings that suddenly opened up with this injury diagnosis.

Manager Davey Martinez said Wednesday he didn’t expect to look outside the organization for help, believing enough fallback options are already in place to fill the void. General manager Mike Rizzo echoed that sentiment Thursday but left the door ajar enough to consider the possibility of outside help.

“We like the depth we have here, but we’re not against looking outside the organization,” Rizzo said. “If something makes sense to us, of course, we’ll certainly look outside and inside.”

The Nationals actually did go outside this winter and added some veteran pitching depth, signing right-handers Chad Kuhl and Wily Peralta to minor league contracts. Both have extensive big league starting experience and seem to have been brought in exactly for this kind of scenario.

Kuhl appears to be the frontrunner to take Cavalli’s spot for now. The 30-year-old started one Grapefruit League game earlier this month, tossing 2 1/3 scoreless innings against the Tigers, then pitched three full innings in relief five days later against the Astros.

Owner of a 31-41 record and 4.74 ERA in parts of six seasons with the Pirates and Rockies, Kuhl impressed through his first 10 starts with Colorado last year, going 4-2 with a 3.17 ERA. But over his final 17 starts, during which time he also dealt with a hip flexor strain and a right biceps strain, he went 2-9 with a 7.37 ERA.

“When we saw him pitch previously in Pittsburgh and in Denver, we liked the way he competes,” Rizzo said. “He’s a sinker/slider/changeup guy. His changeup really stacks up nicely, analytically. And we brought him in to compete for one of these jobs.”

Peralta, 33, has a lengthier history as a major league starter, pitching for parts of 10 seasons with the Brewers, Royals and Tigers. Overall, he’s 56-61 with a 4.29 ERA, but he enjoyed more success last year as a reliever in Detroit, posting a 2.58 ERA in 28 appearances.

With Josiah Gray throwing 82 pitches on a back field Thursday morning, Peralta got the ball for his first start of spring in the evening against the Mets. He responded with three scoreless innings, allowing only one ball to leave the infield.

Martinez said Peralta still has time to get stretched out as a starter, leaving the door potentially open for him to win the last job in the rotation.

The Nationals may look for experience to fill Cavalli’s spot to begin the season, but they’ll certainly be calling upon some young starters when they need help along the way. Included in that group is Joan Adon, who has impressed club officials this spring after a rocky half-season in the major league rotation last year. Cory Abbott, who made nine starts last season, will also be a candidate, as will prospect Jake Irvin.

Adon, Abbott and Irvin are all expected to open the season in the rotation at Triple-A Rochester. Joining them at some point could also be Cole Henry, a highly touted prospect who had thoracic outlet surgery last summer but has made significant progress in his recovery.

“Our cupboard is certainly full with potential,” Rizzo said, “and we’ll see how it shakes out.”

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