When the Nationals face the Mets in the season’s second game Friday night, Josiah Gray will take the mound with batterymate Keibert Ruiz, symbolizing the future of the franchise.
Ironically, they’ll be up against the past of the franchise in Mets starter Max Scherzer, one of the two All-Star players general manager Mike Rizzo gave up last summer to acquire Gray and Ruiz.
Funny how baseball works sometimes.
But while these pieces of the Nationals’ future are on display in Washington, D.C., another young starting pitcher got his season underway Thursday night with Triple-A Rochester in Toledo.
Cade Cavalli, now the organization’s top prospect after Gray and Ruiz graduated last season, made his season debut with the Red Wings after sticking around the major league camp in West Palm Beach almost to the end of the shortened spring training. And he had mixed results.
Cavalli struck out four and only walked one batter in his four innings of work, but gave up four hits, including a two-out, two-run home run and three runs while being credited with a no-decision in Rochester’s 8-5 win over the Tigers’ Triple-A affiliate.
He threw 66 pitches, 45 for strikes, and induced three ground balls and three flyouts against the 17 batters he faced.
“I watched him pitch last night,” Rizzo said while meeting with the media in front of the Nationals dugout during batting practice. “His stuff was very, very good. He threw a lot of changeups, which was part of the developmental process that we have in place for him.”
Cavalli’s fastball is electric. It’s considered to already be major league ready. But the Nationals want to see him improve his off-speed stuff before bringing him up to the majors. His breaking ball was on display during spring training while getting a handful of strikeouts of major leaguers, including Dylan Carlson and Paul Goldschmidt in an exhibition start against the Cardinals.
Now he’s working on his changeup, another box to check before he gets the call to D.C. sometime this season.
“He just has to do the minute things to become a full-packaged major league starter,” Rizzo said. “So we want to see him use all of his pitches.”
Although the Nationals have a developmental plan in place, they will be patient with Cavalli before bringing him to the show. He’s on the fringe of the major league roster. The idea is that he will join Gray in the rotation and throw to Ruiz, leading the next competitive Nationals team.
Cavalli just has a few things to work on before he gets there.
“We just want to see him take another step forward,” said Rizzo. “The stuff is there. It’s major league ready. Now he has to harness it, command it and do the little things it takes to win at the major league level.”
* One other thing of note on the Nationals farm is Brady House’s debut with low Single-A Fredericksburg. Last year’s first-round draft pick is batting third and playing shortstop for the FredNats against the Delmarva Shorebirds tonight.
It is believed that House will eventually move over to third base, his 6-foot-5, 215-lb. frame probably better suited for the hot corner than shortstop. But the 18-year-old has insisted he wants to play shortstop in his professional career since the day he was drafted. He then echoed that sentiment at the start of minor league spring training.
The Nationals are giving him his shot to play short. It’s still to be determined whether or not he stays there.