Davey Martinez compared Cade Cavalli’s focus on the mound to Juan Soto’s in the batter’s box earlier this spring, when asked why he described the Washington Nationals’ 2020 first round pick as a “competitor” and what he meant when he used that particular descriptor.
“Just his actions on the mound every pitch,” Martinez explained. “He engages every pitch, which is nice. You look at a [Juan] Soto, when he engages in every pitch as a hitter, you can say the same thing about Cavalli. I mean, he really engages on every pitch. Sometimes he wants to be too perfect, and I told him, ‘Don’t try to be perfect, just be you, and make the pitch you want to make.’”
That focus was on display in the 23-year-old right-hander’s 2022 Grapefruit League debut, which saw the top prospect in the Nationals’ organization strike out six of ten batters over three scoreless innings in which all of his promise and an aggressive approach caught the attention of everyone watching.
“Any time I get out there and see someone else in my box, I see that they’re in the way of a W,” Cavalli said of his mindset on the mound. “I want to be out there and I want to compete to win and win every pitch, and that’s how you have to pitch, it really is one pitch at a time. I was trying to release whatever happened the inning before, whatever happened the pitch before, and focus and whenever you do that, you look up, and that was three quick innings of just focusing on one pitch.”
Martinez was impressed.
“Cade looked really good today,” Martinez said, as quoted by MLB.com’s Jessica Camerato.
“The biggest thing for him is repeating his mechanics and throwing strikes. He did both today really well, so that was really good to see.”
Cavalli’s willingness to throw strikes, and challenge hitters in that outing stood out too, and he talked after the outing about what he was trying to do on the mound.
“That’s something that I’ve been trying to hone in on, just filling the zone up and forcing hitters to swing,” he said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.
“That’s what I’m trying to do: Get quick outs. And if they swing and miss, even better.”
Cavalli looked so good, in fact, that his manager joked afterwards, “Now I gotta sit there like this and pretend I didn’t see it for a while,” since it might raise uncomfortable questions this spring, in terms of who’s going to be in the big league rotation come Opening Day.
Cavalli, 23, worked his way from High-A Wilmington to Triple-A Rochester in Washington’s system, with a combined 3.36 ERA, 60 walks (4.38 K/9), and a total of 175 strikeouts (12.77 K/9) in 24 starts and 123 1⁄3 IP on the year last summer, and while he’s likely to start back at Triple-A this season, he’s impressed enough that Martinez was asked this week if he could see Cavalli possibly ending up going north with the team come Opening Day.
“That’s a very good question,” the manager said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.
“One that I cannot answer right now. ... I think that’s for the higher-up.”
Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo talked at the start of Spring Training about what the club would need to see from Cavalli to consider that possibility.
“Cade is going to tell us when he’s ready to pitch in the big leagues, I think,” Rizzo said.
“He’s got electric stuff, he’s got an elite package, we know that, he just needs to refine it a little bit. And the pace of that is up to him. He’s an extremely hard worker, and he’s got to take it at his pace, but he’s going to let us know by his performance when he’s ready, and as always, what we’ve done here with myself as the GM, when he’s ready he’s going to be here.”
In his first start of the spring, after coming out of the bullpen in his initial appearance, the righty struck out two in a 16-pitch first, facing a lineup full of expected every day regulars for the St. Louis Cardinals, then gave up four straight hits and three runs in a long second, but got out of the inning, retired the side in order in the third, picking up another K, and a leadoff single in the fourth ended his outing after 56 pitches total, 34 strikes.
“I was very excited,” Cavalli said after his outing, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.
“I felt like I belonged there, facing those kind of hitters. And I think I showed today I can go and compete with anyone.”
“He fit right in,” Cavalli’s manager added. Cavalli’s next start, Martinez said, will be with the big league club too.