Kuhl solid in final spring start, waits for what's next


WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Chad Kuhl handed the ball to Davey Martinez with one out in the sixth tonight at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. The right-hander had just surrendered a leadoff homer and then recorded a flyball out to end his outing at 92 pitches, a solid-if-unspectacular outing against a good Cardinals lineup in the final week of spring training.

Kuhl walked back to the Nationals dugout and began thinking about his next start. The question now: Where and when will that start be?

“We’ve got to figure out what we’re going to do here, but he’s done a great job,” Martinez said. “We’re getting close to the season, and we’ve got to make some decisions. But so far, I like what I’ve seen out of him.”

Thrust into the Nats’ rotation plans after Cade Cavalli tore his elbow ligament last week and required Tommy John surgery, Kuhl seems to have done enough to have locked up the No. 5 starter’s job as the season begins.

The Nationals, though, aren’t ready to make any pronouncements about that. There’s still another 11 or 12 days to go until they’ll need a fifth starter, so that leaves them with some flexibility as they wind up camp.

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Lineups: Nats vs. Cardinals in West Palm Beach on MASN

Luis Garcia swings white

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – It’s going to be a beautiful evening for baseball. If you can’t be down here with us, might as well live vicariously through your TV and watch Bob Carpenter and Kevin Frandsen on MASN.

The Nationals host the Cardinals in Game 25 of 27 on their Grapefruit League slate. They’ve actually done well, record-wise, so far, entering tonight 12-10-2 for the spring (if that matters at all). Most importantly, they’ve been getting excellent starting pitching this week. The quartet of Patrick Corbin (officially named Opening Day starter this afternoon), Josiah Gray, MacKenzie Gore and Trevor Williams combined to post an 0.75 ERA with three walks and 22 strikeouts over 24 innings the last four days.

Chad Kuhl will look to continue those good vibes going tonight against St. Louis. Kuhl hasn’t officially been named the No. 5 starter yet, but it’s hard to imagine anyone else taking the spot from him at this point, especially if he gets through tonight’s outing in one piece. There is, as noted yesterday, a possibility Kuhl doesn’t actually make the Opening Day roster and stays down here to make one final tune-up start in a minor league game before heading north in time to start either April 4 or 5 against the Rays.

Almost all of the regulars are in Davey Martinez’s lineup again tonight, aside from CJ Abrams and Victor Robles. Luis García gets another opportunity to lead off. Joey Meneses gets a start at first base after playing left field the last two nights.

Where: The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches
Gametime: 6:05 p.m. EDT
Radio: MLB.com (Cardinals broadcast)
Weather: Clear, 80 degrees, wind 13 mph right field to left field

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Downs' bruised hand adds wrinkle to bench competition

Jeter Downs Red Sox swing white

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Three players vying for the final spot on the Nationals’ Opening Day bench remain in big league camp, but one of them is not currently playing.

Jeter Downs, who has twice been hit by a pitch on the hand in the last week, didn’t play Wednesday afternoon against the Yankees and isn’t on the lineup card for tonight’s game against the Astros.

Manager Davey Martinez said X-rays on Downs’ hand were negative, but he does have a contusion and needs at least a few days to heal. That complicates the infielder’s chances of heading north with the club, given how few opportunities remain to make a case.

“I want to see him get some at-bats,” Martinez said. “We’ve been working on some stuff with him hitting, and I want to see him back out there to see if he can do these things we’re asking him to do. But I don’t want to him push himself to try to get back out there. I want to make sure that (he’s healthy).”

Downs, the former top prospect of the Dodgers and Red Sox whom the Nationals claimed off waivers this winter, is batting just .176 (6-for-34) with three RBIs, three walks and 12 strikeouts this spring. His ability to play multiple infield positions as well as the outfield, though, makes him intriguing as a 26th man on the roster.

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Kuhl slides into rotation and makes solid case

kuhl rockies

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – It would’ve been easy for Chad Kuhl to take the mound this afternoon at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, knowing what has changed in the last week, and feel like he needed to do something more than usual.

With Cade Cavalli now headed for season-ending Tommy John surgery, the Nationals have designated Kuhl as the top candidate to take the final spot in their Opening Day rotation.

What could’ve been considered by some a make-or-break start against the Tigers was viewed by Kuhl as simply the next step in his preparation for the season, no matter where he will be pitching two weeks from now.

“To be honest, I never really put too much stock in spring games or outings,” he said. “We had talked, and for me it’s just trying to do what I can do to focus on getting better, focusing on the things I can control. I talked with (general manager Mike) Rizzo in the offseason about the opportunity and felt like I was on a good path, no matter what happened box-score-wise. I was able to focus on myself.”

Whether the results of today’s start would’ve made a difference or not, Kuhl made sure not to do anything that might jeopardize his chances of making the club. He tossed five innings of one-run ball during the Nats’ 2-1 win, allowing back-to-back hits in the top of the first but then settling into a groove and finishing with six consecutive outs.

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Starting lineups: Nats vs. Tigers in West Palm Beach

Lane Thomas swing white

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – It’s been a warm, dry spring for the better part of a month now, but we did get one rainout last week, and now the weather pattern seems to have changed. It’s supposed to be cooler, windier and cloudier the next several days, with some possibility of rain (more so Monday than today).

The Nationals would much rather play today than not, because they need to get Chad Kuhl stretched out in time for the start of the season, now that the right-hander is likely to be the No. 5 starter. Kuhl made one other start this spring – coincidentally, it came against the Tigers in Lakeland – so he’s probably got two more opportunities to pitch before it counts.

The Nationals have eight of their nine expected regulars in the lineup today, all but Joey Meneses (who of course is still competing for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic). CJ Abrams returns after missing four days with a tight back. Davey Martinez said they’ll watch him closely, but he needs to get into regular-season mode, so they won’t ease him back in too much.

Where: The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches
Gametime: 1:05 p.m. EDT
TV: None
Radio: 980 AM, MLB.com
Weather: Cloudy, 73 degrees, wind 14 mph in from left field

RF Lane Thomas
1B Dominic Smith
3B Jeimer Candelario
DH Corey Dickerson
C Keibert Ruiz
2B Luis García
SS CJ Abrams
CF Victor Robles
LF Michael Chavis

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Abrams works out, likely to return to lineup Sunday

CJ Abrams running red spring

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Though he’s out of the Nationals lineup for the fourth straight day with a tight back, CJ Abrams appears close to returning to game action, probably as soon as Sunday.

Abrams hasn’t played since Tuesday against the Mets, after which he reported tightness in his back. The 22-year-old shortstop suggested it wasn’t anything serious and that he’d be playing if this happened during the regular season.

This morning provided some confirmation of that: Abrams was a full participant in pregame drills with the rest of the starting infielders and fielded grounders, turned double plays and took batting practice with no apparent issues.

What would be the sign that Abrams was good to return to Grapefruit League games?

“Just the whole baseball activity, being on his feet,” manager Davey Martinez said this morning, before workouts. “He’s going to take swings, he’s going to hit, he’s going to do everything. And if everything goes well, hopefully he’ll play tomorrow.”

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How Nationals will try to compensate for loss of Cavalli

davey and rizzo sitting

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.

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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.

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Nats add another potential depth starter in Kuhl

Mike Rizzo

The Nationals have added another experienced starter to a rotation depth chart that was lacking in that department, signing right-hander Chad Kuhl to a minor league contract with an invitation to big league camp later this month.

Kuhl, 30, has made 111 major league starts, the first 84 of which came for the Pirates from 2016-21. He spent last season with the Rockies, struggling to a 6-11 record and 5.72 ERA in 27 starts, though he did toss a three-hit shutout over the Dodgers on June 27 at Coors Field.

Kuhl actually totaled eight quality starts for Colorado, only one fewer than Patrick Corbin and Josiah Gray produced for the Nationals.

Somewhat surprisingly, though, the right-hander fared worse on the road than he did at home, going 3-7 with a 6.32 ERA and 1.693 WHIP away from Coors Field while going 3-4 with a 5.04 ERA and 1.399 WHIP at mile-high altitude.

During his five seasons in Pittsburgh, Kuhl went 25-30 with a 4.44 ERA. His best performance came in 2017, when he went 8-11 with a 4.35 ERA and 142 strikeouts in 31 starts.

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