Pregame notes on Nats facing debuting starter, Negro Leagues stats and Cavalli’s rehab

ATLANTA – The Nationals have another tough pitching matchup in tonight’s game against the Braves. Not because it’s another established major leaguer like Charlie Morton or Max Fried. But because it’s a 23-year-old making his first major league start.

Right-hander Spencer Schwellenbach had his contract selected to the Braves roster this morning to make his debut tonight. It’s not the first time the Nats have faced a young pitcher making his debut, but it still proves to be difficult when there’s only so much to scout beforehand.

“He's new. He's an up-and-coming young prospect,” manager Davey Martinez said during his pregame media session on how his team is preparing to face Schwellenbach. “So we did our due diligence, watched a bunch of videos. But our guys get to face him for the first time. So for me, as a young player, as a team facing a new guy, you should be a little excited. The big thing is we gotta get him in the strike zone. He might have a little nerves. But get him in the strike zone and swing at good pitches.”

Schwellenbach, the Braves’ No. 3 prospect per MLB Pipeline, provides an especially difficult challenge because he doesn’t have a lot of film to study. A second-round draft pick out of Nebraska in 2021, he had Tommy John surgery immediately after the draft and started his minor league career last year, making 16 starts between Single-A and High-A.

He started this season at High-A Rome for eight starts before being promoted two weeks ago to Double-A Mississippi, where he struck out 51 batters in 45 innings and did not allow a run over 13 innings.

So is the plan to be more patient or aggressive against a debuting starter?

“You could look at it both ways,” Martinez said. “Like I said, you want to get strikes. We got a young team that is very aggressive and they love to swing. But you gotta get him in the zone. And I'm not going to deter them from swinging pitches they think they can hit. But the key is to work some at-bats, see some pitches, see what he's got and then go from there.”

It will be worth watching the first at-bat of the night, with CJ Abrams leading off. Per Elias Sports Bureau, Abrams and Hall of Famer Derek Jeter are the only two players who have hit two leadoff home runs off pitchers making their major league debuts since 1900: Jeter on Aug. 21, 1996 off Jason Dickson and April 10, 2012 against Wei-Yin Chen, and Abrams on Aug. 6, 2023 against Lyon Richardson and April 17, 2024 off Landon Knack.

No one has hit three since 1900.

* Major League Baseball today officially incorporated statistics from the Negro Leagues into MLB record books. As a result, Josh Gibson has become the major league’s career leader in multiple offensive categories. Gibson was a power-hitting catcher in the Negro Leagues, including for the Homestead Grays in D.C., and is considered one of the greatest home run hitters and most feared sluggers of any era.

With a .372 career batting average, he has officially surpassed Ty Cobb (.367) for the lead in the major league record books. Often called “the Black Babe Ruth,” Gibson also overtook Ruth’s records as the career leader in slugging percentage (.718 vs. .690) and OPS (1.177 vs. 1.164). He is inducted into the Ring of Honor at Nationals Park and is featured in the Homestead Grays exhibit in the Champions Club at the ballpark.

“I think it's awesome. I really do,” Martinez said. “I mean, they're baseball players and they put up some big numbers. You could talk about the guy that was in D.C. for the Grays, Josh. He's got some big numbers. I don't think anybody is ever gonna reach those numbers. But it's good for the game. It's about time they did that and I'm really super excited that they added them to all the record books. That's awesome.”

* The Nationals weren’t ready to officially announce when Cade Cavalli would make his next rehab start with High-A Wilmington, but the expectation is it will be tomorrow in Bowling Green, Ky.

Cavalli, still on his way back from last year’s Tommy John surgery, made his first rehab start last week with the Florida Complex League Nationals. He threw a bullpen Sunday before flying to meet the Blue Rocks in Kentucky. Even though it will be over a week in between rehab starts, the Nationals want to keep him on a five- or six-day starter’s schedule.

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