September injury means Cavalli is an unknown entering 2023

PLAYER REVIEW: CADE CAVALLI

Age on opening day 2023: 24

How acquired: First-round pick, 2020 draft

MLB service time: 41 days

2022 salary: $700,000

Contract status: Under team control, arbitration-eligible in 2026, free agent in 2029

2022 stats (AAA): 6-4, 3.71 ERA, 20 G, 20 GS, 0 CG, 97 IP, 75 H, 43 R, 40 ER, 3 HR, 39 BB, 104 SO, 9 HBP, 1.175 WHIP

Quotable: “There’s a lot of takeaways. I don’t know what the biggest one is. But I think the way my mind developed and my outlook on how to approach this game, and how to approach getting ready for each start, it grew a ton. I’m very, very excited to take what I’ve learned this year and put it into next year.” – Cade Cavalli

2022 analysis: When the Nationals kept Cade Cavalli into the final week of spring training before optioning him to Triple-A Rochester, there was a sense it wouldn’t be long before the organization’s top pitching prospect made his major league debut. Turns out it took five months to happen, and then it lasted all of one start before an injury brought a halt to his season.

The Nats elected to leave Cavalli in the minors until they were confident he could sustain success at the Triple-A level over a lengthy period of time. The early returns were erratic: The right-hander gave up five or more runs in three of his first seven starts, leaving him with a 7.62 ERA and 2-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Then things began to click: Over his final 13 starts (which included a brief break while dealing with a minor finger injury), he posted a 2.10 ERA, 1.019 WHIP while striking out three times as many batters as he walked.

So the time finally came, the Nationals calling Cavalli up to make his big league debut Aug. 26 in what looked like a favorable matchup against a weak-hitting Reds lineup. But on an especially muggy Friday night in D.C., he had all kinds of trouble gripping the ball. Over the course of 4 1/3 labored innings, he allowed seven runs on six hits, walked two batters, hit three more and struck out six while racking up a lofty pitch count of 99.

And before he had a chance to bounce back, Cavalli reported soreness in his right shoulder. The Nats immediately placed him on the 15-day injured list. There was a slight chance he could return for the season’s final week, but another setback along the way ended that thought and ended the prospect’s season on a very sour note.

2023 outlook: The Nationals hoped they’d enter next season with Cavalli having already established himself as one of their frontline starters. Given the way this season ended for him, it’s hard to be able to say that with any certainty now.

Though he did resume throwing in late September and said his shoulder felt strong, Cavalli did not have enough time to get back to throwing off a mound before heading home to Oklahoma for the offseason. So even if everything progresses in a normal fashion this winter, he’ll still report to West Palm Beach for spring training with some lingering question about the state of his arm. His bullpen sessions and his exhibition starts will be watched very closely.

If he’s healthy, there’s every reason to believe Cavalli will be in the opening day rotation and finally begin showing what he can do at the big league level every five days. The Nats almost certainly will have to find a way to limit his innings along the way, perhaps skipping starts at some point or even shutting him down in September. But if he can keep himself healthy enough to make 20-plus starts and show off the electric repertoire that made him a top prospect in the first place, it will be deemed a successful season.

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