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Washington Nationals news & notes: Davey Martinez and Mike Rizzo on Cade Cavalli; Henry Blanco and Keibert Ruiz + more

Highlights from the Nationals media availability on Wednesday...

When Will We See Cavalli In D.C.?:

In three starts and 16 innings pitched in August, Cade Cavalli, 24, and currently the highest-ranked pitcher and No. 4 overall player on MLB Pipeline’s list of Washington’s top prospects, has allowed just five earned runs (2.81 ERA), walking six, striking out 19 batters, and holding opposing hitters to a combined .233 AVG.

On the year, Cavalli had a 3.82 ERA, 36 walks, 96 Ks, and a .219 BAA as of Wednesday, so of course GM Mike Rizzo, at this time of year, was going to be asked when we’ll see the right-hander in the majors, with rosters expanding (slightly) on September 1st, and some of their next-gen Nationals already up in the majors.

In his weekly visit with 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies on Wednesday, Rizzo declined to offer a specific date, but he said Cavalli is making progress and consistently performing with Triple-A Rochester.

“He’s getting better each and every start,” Rizzo said of the Nats’ 2020 1st Round pick out of the University of Oklahoma. “You’ve got a pitcher that’s got good stuff, he’s really starting to come on with his third pitch, which he’s put a lot of work in, into his changeup.

“That looks like it’s going to be a good pitch for him at the big league level, but you also got to remember he did have a great college career, but he didn’t pitch much.

“He was a two-way player, he’s really new to pitching, and he’s really learned fast and on the run, and when you talk about a guy who had a limited amount of innings in high school and college as he has, he’s made a meteoric rise through the minor league rankings, and I think he’s just scratching the surface. He’s going to be a good big league pitcher for us, I’m excited to see him when he gets here, and when the reports are that he’s ready to come to the big leagues, we certainly will not hesitate to bring him here.”

Big league manager Davey Martinez told reporters before Wednesday’s series finale with the Chicago Cubs in the nation’s capital he was eager to see Cavalli, when the coaches, and the developmental folks in the organization, deem he’s ready to make the jump.

“For me it’s always about consistency, right?” Martinez said. “And he’s starting to get it.

“We’re starting to watch him — he’s starting to throw a lot more strikes than balls, he’s competing.

“High-leverage, I look at all the high-leverage stuff when he gets himself in a situation, how well he gets out of it, and he’s doing a lot better.”

Asked where he has seen improvement from the pitcher, Martinez too pointed to the right-hander’s development of his changeup among other things.

“We talked to him a lot earlier about changeups, he’s throwing a lot more changeups now, so that’s awesome,” Martinez said. “His breaking ball he’s landing for strikes, which is great. So it’s coming. So now, like I said, he goes out there and has a few outings where he’s consistent, we get him up there where he can throw six-plus innings, then we’ll deem that he probably can come up [here] and help us. Right now the biggest thing for us is getting our guys to get through the sixth inning, and we need that. We can’t have him come up here and go four innings, because it will kill our bullpen, and I think they all understand it.

“I know Rafi down there, Chaves, [Triple-A Pitching Coach Rafael Chaves] is working with these guys to go deeper in games, and it’s all about throwing consistent strikes, and he’s been — like I said, he’s had a couple of good outings in a row, and he’s been doing everything we’ve asked him to do, so it’s been good.”

Ruiz and Blanco:

Davey Martinez was hoping to stay away from Keibert Ruiz on Tuesday night, but he did end up using the 24-year-old catcher, who was banged up a bit after taking two foul tips off his mask and a hit-by-pitch on his leg in the series opener with the Chicago Cubs on Monday in the nation’s capital.

“He played and actually did well, but I talked to him last night, he said he feels fine, so he’s in there today,” Martinez said before the series finale with the Cubbies.

The fifth-year skipper talked on Tuesday about watching Ruiz closely, not just for signs of an issue after the fouls off his mask, but also because he’s played a lot this season.

As Martinez said before the second of three with the Cubs in D.C., they want Ruiz to keep on going in his first full big league season, since there’s a lot to learn and he’s going to be their No. 1 backstop going forward, and as much as he’s played, he wants to keep going out each day too.

“Hey, look, every time I don’t play him he wants to play, so that’s a good indication that his body is handling it really well,” Martinez said. “For me, the scary part is all the hits in the head, with the foul tips, and reason being he’s one of the best on catching foul tips, because he’s so underneath the hitter, and we love that, and honestly, the guy that used to do that really well was [current Cubs’ manager] David Ross, when we had him, because he was really good at catching foul tips because he was another guy that really got underneath the hitter, and was able to catch them.

MLB: JUN 21 Nationals at Orioles Photo by John McCreary/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

“With that being said, they’re also vulnerable to getting hit like that, with a lot of foul tips like that, so we just have to keep an eye on him at this point, because he has gotten hit a lot.”

Martinez went on at length when asked about the work Ruiz has done, and the improvement he’s made working closely with Catching & Strategy Coach Henry Blanco, the former major league catcher who moved into his new role after helping catchers out while serving as the Bullpen Coach in D.C. before this season. Where has the focus been?

“Henry has worked a lot with his mechanics, catching, his glove, getting underneath the baseball,” Martinez explained. “[Ruiz has] done a lot better receiving the ball. Showing the pitchers targets, things of that nature. He used to be a guy that used to drop his glove down, and start with it down and then come up as the pitch was coming, but he’s getting more apt to just getting that glove up there and keeping it up there and giving a better target.

“His footwork. His footwork throwing has been impeccable. I mean, as you know, he’s one of the best catch and throw guys in the major leagues. His release is really quick, and that’s something that Henry really pounded him on, has been working on, getting to throw to your target, moving your feet, and blocking balls. Henry is really good at blocking balls, and he teaches him how to get his body over the ball, keep the ball out in front of him, and he’s been really good at that.”

Before play on Wednesday, Ruiz had a 30% CS% on the year, throwing out 19 of 64 would-be base-stealers, while posting a .990 fld%, with seven errors on the year.

FWIW: Henry Blanco, in his 16-year career in the majors, finished with a 43% CS%.

“Henry is still working with him on the game-calling portion of it, and sequencing,” Martinez continued, “... you know, and with that being said, like I said, Aníbal [Sánchez] has talked to him a lot, because Aníbal has done it, so but Henry constantly works with him, and they go over yesterday’s game, he’ll talk to him a little bit about today without beating him up because he’s got to focus on today, but he wants him to understand some of the things that he could do different. And they’ve been good. They work good together. For Henry, this is like — he always says he’s not going to try to make him what he used to be, because they all have their own identity, but he’s trying to get the best out of each catcher that we have and make them the best that they possibly could be. He works really hard with these guys. Tres [Barrera], him, Riley [Adams], when he was here. Riley got better back there, and Riley is a bigger guy, right? So his whole thing was staying low, and it’s tough for him, but they worked on it, and he’s got a lot better, and I’m getting good reports about him catching down there [at Triple-A], being a lot better, so I’ve had Henry for a long time, and he’s worked with catchers everywhere I’ve been and he’s awesome.”

Simple Question = Interesting Answer:

It was a simple question, really. What are your team’s goals down the stretch? 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies asked Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo the question in his weekly visit this week, and Rizzo’s answer was an interesting one touching on how he sees the club’s reboot going a year-plus after they kicked it off with a sell-off of expiring deals (and a year-plus of control of Trea Turner) at the trade deadline in 2021. So what are the goals down the stretch?

“To compete to win every game, that’s always our goal,” Rizzo said, summing it up.

“It was disappointing last night, we competed well, but we came up short. That was a game that we thought we could have won, we should have won, and we wanted to win, but that’s our goal, our goal is still to win each and every game out there.

Chicago Cubs v Washington Nationals Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

“We want to see our good, young core guys play every day, and to make progress, and hopefully when you see a lineup up the middle [that’s] young, strong, and talented, like a [Keibert] Ruiz, [CJ] Abrams at shortstop, Luis García at second, a [Victor] Robles in center field, and you get ... Josiah Gray and you get back [MacKenzie] Gore, and you see the young guys like [Cade] Cavalli and [Cole] Henry and those young pitchers coming up in the near future, that’s what this thing is all about, this reboot is based on good, talented, young core players that you’re going to build around, and that’s going to be our goal, the improvement of the good young players that are going to be the nucleus of our next championship-caliber club.”

[ed. note - “Unfortunately there was an update on Cole Henry after Rizzo mentioned him in the interview with the Junkies...”]: