clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Washington Nationals’ Cade Cavalli and Jackson Rutledge impress in first taste of Grapefruit League action...

The future is bright in the nation’s capital, and baseball fans got a glimpse of the Nationals’ future rotation this week...

Washington’s 2019 and 2020 1st Round draft picks were both featured in Thursday’s game, which was on ESPN, so it was a good showcase for two of the top arms in the organization though Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez was clear, getting them on a national broadcast wasn’t the goal. It was just their day to pitch.

Jackson Rutledge, 21, was the 17th overall pick in 2019’s draft, out of San Jacinto College in Houston.

Cade Cavalli, 22, was the 22nd overall pick in the 2020 Draft, taken out of the University of Oklahoma.

Both faced the New York Mets in their respective Grapefruit League debuts this week, with Cavalli out of the bullpen first in the second inning.

MLB: Washington Nationals at New York Mets Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

He worked around a walk and struck out two in a 24-pitch, 13-strike appearance.

Rutledge’s debut came in the third, when he worked around one hit and struck out two as well, in a 19-pitch, 12-strike frame.

“He was very poised, for one,” Martinez said of Cavalli’s appearance. “There was no panic.”

”He did go to his secondary pitches, which was kind of nice to see. So you know, the good thing is that he had a veteran catcher in Yan [Gomes] that could help him out at little bit, and he looked really, really good.”

Rutledge, the manager said, was hyped up for his debut, but he settled in after giving up a leadoff single, then picking the runner, Brandon Nimmo, off first base.

“He works — he tries to work extremely fast, he really does,” Martinez said.

“I mean, I’ve seen him before on video, and he’s a guy that gets the ball and goes.

“Sometimes you’ve got to slow things down a little bit and catch your breath, he seemed to do that there. And like I said, I liked what I saw out of him. He threw strikes, he threw strikes with his secondary pitches, it was really good.”

Rutledge said after the successful pickoff he settled in and calmed down on the mound.

“I think I did,” Rutledge told reporters. “That first at bat I was a little bit outside of my body, just kind of taking in the moment, and so I think once I had that pickoff that kind of settled me in and got me really comfortable and started to make some pitches.”

He fell behind Jeff McNeil before recovering to record his first of two Ks, then battled Dom Smith for 12 pitches before getting his second strikeout with a 3-2 slider.

“During that at bat I was really just trusting my catcher,” Rutledge said. “Letting him determine.

“He’s seen a lot of innings and a lot of 3-2 at bats, so I put my confidence in him and he put down a ‘3’, and I was fully confident in throwing a slider there and everything worked out.”

Did he agree with the decision to go with the slider there, after Smith had fouled off four consecutive 96-97 MPH, two-strike fastballs?

“I’m just of the mindset of that I’m just going to get him out with any pitch that [Gomes] calls, was what I was trying to do at that point,” Rutledge explained.

“I think he was late to most of the fastballs I threw, so just trying to execute one, when he puts down fastball, to an area where he’s going to get a whiff, and obviously when he put the slider down, throwing that off of the fastball that I had [thrown] the past few pitches.”

Cavalli too talked about some help from his teammates helping him through his outing after he committed an error on a grounder back to the mound, one out after he’d issued a leadoff walk.

He got a visit on the mound from infielders Ryan Zimmerman and Josh Harrison and catcher Yan Gomes that helped calm his nerves.

“It was just kind of like, laugh it off,” he said of their message to him, after which he picked up the back-to-back Ks to strand both runners who’d reached base.

“It happened, you know, but Zim told me, ‘Hey, pick me up right here.’ And I mean, I just made an error on my part, I should have been better, and went and got two Ks and picked him up, and that’s what the team is about, that’s what we’re going to do this year.”

The meeting on the mound, he said, was one of the things that stood out for him when he thought back on his debut shortly after it concluded. The highlights?

“I mean, just honestly just being out there,” Cavalli said. “I took a look around. I’m in a Nats uniform in a big league game. That’s what I’ve dreamed of since I’m a kid. And yeah, it’s an exhibition, but I’m going to go out there and compete like it’s not. It’s Game 7 to me every time, so I enjoyed it whenever I got out there. And I went straight into compete mode, and it wasn’t just about enjoying it. I like to have fun whenever I’m competing at my hardest, that’s how I enjoy it.

“And then just having Harrison and Zim and Yan come talk to me, and I’m a youngster and having those vets come up and like, ‘Hey, chill out. Just have fun.’

“It makes me feel better and more comfortable, so I’ll for sure always remember that.”

Rutledge’s take on his first time out facing big league hitters in Grapefruit League action?

MLB: Washington Nationals at New York Mets Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

“I think it’s just the same as any other at bat,” he said. “I had faced some big league guys in the past, just in scrimmages and stuff like that, and just really wanted to go right at guys. It’s early in the season, I’m trying to basically throw my best stuff right at them. And not try to nibble the corners, not try to be too fancy, but just throw my best stuff where I’m the best.”

Their manager’s take on their debuts?

“The physical tools, as you can see, they both have really good stuff,” Martinez said.

“But they’re still developing. The mental part, is yet to be seen. We see some good things, but yet, they haven’t really done this at the major league level.

“These guys are young, they’re some of our top pitchers, but thus far we love what we see, and they’re great kids. They want to learn, they want to absorb everything that we’re talking about and teaching them.

“What Max [Scherzer] is saying, what [Stephen Strasburg] is saying, the [Patrick] Corbins, the [Jon] Lesters, they’re listening and they want to get better.”