“I’m excited about it,” Davey Martinez said when he spoke to reporters in advance of Cade Cavalli’s MLB debut last night. Cavalli, 24, is a 2020 first-round pick (22nd overall) by the Washington Nationals, and the top pitching prospect in the system. He made 20 starts, throwing 97 innings total at Triple-A Rochester this season, giving up 39 walks (3.62 BB/9), striking out 104 batters (9.65 K/9), and holding opposing hitters to a combined .215 BAA, with a 3.61 ERA, and a 3.23 FIP in his second full season of professional ball.
He got the call to come up to the majors for the first time officially on Friday afternoon, though Martinez said previously the right-hander headed down to D.C. for the off day this past Thursday, so he could get acclimated and prepare for his first big league outing.
“I know he’s excited to be here. I spoke to him for a little bit. He’s good to go, he’s ready to go,” Martinez continued. “So just go out there and take my emotions aside, just go out and watch him compete. That’s what we’re doing.
“I talked to him a little bit about trying to get strike one. Trying to work ahead of hitters, controlling his heartbeat, but most of all, just go out there and have fun.
“I said, ‘You deserve to be here. You’ve done well. And you’re going to be here.’ So just go out there and just compete and have some fun.”
Martinez was careful not to place any additional pressure on Cavalli, knowing how big a deal it is for any player to make their big league debut.
“I just want him to go out there and not put any more pressure on himself, just go out there and compete,” Martinez said.
“That’s something they should be learning, especially when you get to the games where you have some high-leverage situations. Learn how to control yourself. Learn how to control your heartbeat, your emotions, and understand what you do really well in those situations and get back to that. So, it’s what we talked about a little bit today. I know it’s going to be his first day, so I’m looking forward to seeing how he handles himself.”
Martinez also said there was no pitch count or any sort of limitations on the young pitcher going into the outing.
“There [are] none,” the fifth-year skipper explained.
“He’s been up to, like I said, he’s thrown  pitches,” in his last start at Triple-A, “so we’re going to go out there and watch him. Treat him just like we treat any other starting pitcher here.”
“t’s his first day here, so I don’t want to put anything on him,” Martinez reiterated at another point in his pregame press conference, “... but we’re all excited that he’s here, and I think, like I said, he’s got the stuff to pitch here, so let him go out there, and let him do his thing, it will be a lot fun, a lot of excitement.”
How did it go?
Cavalli struggled with his grip at times, on a humid night in the nation’s capital, hitting three Cincinnati Reds’ batters, and ultimately surrendering six hits, two walks, and seven earned runs in 4 1⁄3 IP, giving up an RBI single and RBI double in the first, an RBI double in the third, and leaving the mound in the top of the fifth with the bases loaded, with all three runners he left on coming around to score and ugly up his line a bit in what was at times an impressive debut.
Cade Cavalli’s Line: 4.1 IP, 6 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 2 BB, 6 Ks, 99 P, 57 S, 3/2 GO/FO.
Cavalli threw 40% fastballs, 36% curves, 13% changeups, 8% sliders, and 2% sinkers, with 13 swinging strikes (six with his curve, five with his 4-seamer, and two with his changeup), and got 10 called strikes (five with his fastball, three with his changeup, and two with his curve), averaging in 95.6 MPH on his four-seam fastball, which got up to 97.8 MPH, mixing in his curve (85.1), and the changeup (87.4), along with his 90.5 MPH slider, and 93.7 MPH sinker.
“He got ahead of some guys, hit a couple guys with the breaking balls,” Martinez said after a 7-3 loss, “but his breaking balls, when he throws it over the plate, is good. His changeup was really good. And like I said, he probably should use it a little bit more, but once again it’s just about pitch count, right, throwing strikes, getting ahead of hitters, a couple plays we should have made behind him we didn’t. But overall, for a first day, I know the jitters were there, but I thought his stuff was good and he’s going to do well. So we’ll get him out there again in five days and we’ll see what happens.”
Cavalli was critical of his own work in his debut outing.
“I’ve got to execute more,” he said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.
“It comes down to that: You’ve got to execute pitches, and I didn’t do that tonight. I didn’t put my team in position to win a ballgame. I’ve got to be better.”
While acknowledging the starter’s grip issues, Martinez said it’s something he has to figure out quick.
“Yeah, it looked like he had a little bit of trouble gripping,” the fifth-year skipper said. “We’ll talk to him about that too, but that’s something that he really has to get over, because it’s going to be hot. We play in the summertime. So, but I really believe he’s going to be fine.”
How had he improved since the last time Martinez saw him in-person in Spring Training?
“For me, he slowed everything down mechanically, he repeated his mechanics really well, which was really nice, and that’s something that when he left Spring Training we wanted him to do, and like I said before, we added the changeup, and he worked on it, and his changeup will play here, it really will.
“So he threw some good ones, and that to me is exciting.
“Moving forward, I’m actually really excited to see him go out and compete again in five days and we’ll see what happens then.”
Martinez also said, as he’s said before, including when Josiah Gray first came up late last season, he doesn’t put too much stock in a pitcher’s first start in the majors.
“You can’t really judge a kid’s first outing. Because I know the nerves — regardless of what they tell you, the nerves are there, right, and he wants to impress, he wants to show that he belongs here, so, baby steps, but I thought the stuff was really good. I really did.
“So, like I said, [Pitching Coach Jim] Hickey will talk to him tomorrow, we’ll get him through his bullpen and then get him back out there.”