Nats preparing for Kuhl to take Cavalli's rotation spot (game canceled)

JUPITER, Fla. – Though they won’t know results of the MRI on Cade Cavalli’s elbow until later today or Thursday, the Nationals are already making plans to proceed without the rookie right-hander, with a veteran starter in line to take his place for the time being.

“Chad Kuhl, right now, is going to get an opportunity to probably start if Cade can’t do it,” manager Davey Martinez said this morning, before the Nats' game against the Marlins was canceled due to rain.

Kuhl, a 30-year-old right-hander in camp on a minor league deal, has made one Grapefruit League start this spring, tossing 2 1/3 scoreless innings March 5 against the Tigers. He’s also made three relief appearances, including a three-inning stint Monday against the Astros.

A veteran of six big league seasons, the first five of which came with the Pirates, Kuhl owns a career 31-41 record, 4.74 ERA and 1.451 WHIP. He missed the entire 2019 season recovering from Tommy John surgery but returned healthy in 2020. The Delaware native joined the Rockies last year and made 27 starts, going 6-11 with a 5.72 ERA that was more than a run higher than his career mark to that point.

The final numbers don’t tell the full story of Kuhl’s 2022 season. Through his first 10 starts, he was 4-2 with a 3.17 ERA. Then over his final 17 starts – with a brief stint on the injured list due to a strained hip flexor – he was 2-9 with a 7.37 ERA, inflating his season totals.

The Nationals looked at Kuhl’s peripheral stats, taking into account the effect of pitching at altitude at Coors Field, and saw reason to believe he was due for some improvement. Relying more on a four-seam fastball and slider in Pittsburgh, he decreased his usage of both pitches in Colorado and instead threw more sinkers. Opponents wound up crushing that pitch to the tune of a .367 batting average and .599 slugging percentage.

“His breaking ball’s better now, because he’s not in Colorado,” Martinez said. “That’s going to help him out. He’s really working on a changeup; he threw a couple really good ones. And he’s got a mix where he can throw a two-seamer and a four-seamer, which we talked about when we got him here. He’s used both, and it’s so far been pretty effective.”

In discussing other potential rotation options, Martinez mentioned Joan Adon, who was sent down to Triple-A Rochester earlier in camp, and Paolo Espino, whom the organization views as more valuable as a long reliever. Cory Abbott and Jake Irvin also are starters who were optioned to Triple-A in the last week.

The Nationals don’t appear to be looking at external options at this point.

“Eh, right now, no,” Martinez said. “I really feel comfortable right now with the guys we have.”

* Jeter Downs was set to have X-rays taken on his left hand this morning after the infielder was hit by a pitch during Tuesday’s game against the Mets. Downs, the former top Dodgers and Red Sox prospect, is among the final competitors in camp for the final spot on the Opening Day bench, joining infielders Michael Chavis and Leonel Valera, outfielder Stone Garrett and first baseman/DH Matt Adams.

“He says he feels way better, but we just want to make sure,” Martinez said. “When you get hit in the hand, you’ve got all these tiny little bones in there. We’ll get him checked out.”

* Today's game was the first of the spring canceled by rain. Players were beginning to warm up when rain began to fall about 30 minutes before scheduled first pitch. They retreated to the dugout for a few minutes, then packed up their stuff and headed back to the clubhouse shortly after 1 p.m.

Patrick Corbin, who was scheduled to start, will now get his work in throwing in a cage. Josiah Gray will start Thursday night against the Mets as planned.

Breaking down the roster with two weeks to go
Starting lineups: Nats vs. Marlins in Jupiter

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