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Washington Nationals news & notes: Cade Cavalli shut down again; Josiah Gray down the stretch + more...

Highlights from Davey Martinez’s media availability before last night’s series opener with Miami...

Cavalli Shut Down Again; Gets Cortisone Shot:

Cade Cavalli, who landed on the IL with inflammation in his right shoulder last month, after making his MLB debut, was no throw for three weeks, but tried to start back up and had an issue which led the Nationals to shut him down again as Davey Martinez told reporters in his pregame press conference before Friday’s series opener with the Miami Marlins in D.C.

“Yeah, he had a little discomfort, so we shut him down right away,” Martinez explained.

“He got an injection before — they gave him some medication orally to try to decrease the inflammation — this time they injected it to get a little bit of the fluid that’s left in there.

“We’re going to wait between 3-7 days depending on how he’s feeling to get him back and throwing again, but everything else feels good.

“I talked to him earlier today, he said he feels fine, but I told him, I said, ‘We’re going to give it some time, see if this medication kicks in and then we’ll go from there.”

What Martinez doesn’t want, is for the young, relatively inexperienced, starter, to overreact to a setback the manager is not too concerned about at this point.

Washington Nationals and the Oakland As Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images

“But like I said, I don’t want him to crazy about, ‘Oh, I couldn’t really throw,’ and I said, ‘No, sometimes it takes a little bit longer than others, so just relax and we’ll where we’re at in 3-7 days,” Martinez said.

The 24-year-old, 2020 1st Round pick worked his way from A-ball to Triple-A in the Nationals’ system in his first full season of pro ball in 2021, and started 2022 with their club’s top minor league affiliate, putting up a total of 39 walks (3.62 BB/9), striking out 104 batters (9.65 K/9), and holding hitters to a .215 AVG, with a 3.71 ERA, and a 3.24 FIP in 20 starts and 97 innings pitched at Triple-A Rochester in his second full season in Washington’s system.

How’s he handling the disappointment of getting a taste of big league action and having to shut it down, then having another setback?

“I think there’s a combination of a lot of different things,” Martinez said.

“One, he’s never ever been hurt, so I think that worries him a little bit. So the thing that I try to tell him, ‘It’s a process, sometimes it doesn’t go as smoothly as you’d like,’ and he wants to throw, like he told me, ‘A couple days, I’m going to throw,’ I said, ‘Let’s see where we’re at in a few days and then we’ll go from there.’ I’m not concerned yet, because everything else is super-clean. It’s just this little bit of fluid left. But the rotator cuff is good, everything, his lat’s good, everything is good, so we’ll see where he’s at in a few days and then we’ll go from there.”

Gray’s Days:

Josiah Gray gave up his MLB-leading 37th HR of the year early last night in the 26th outing of his 2022 campaign, but before the 24-year-old right-hander took the mound against the Miami Marlins (and he gave up the home run and four runs total in the top of the second), Nats’ manager Davey Martinez talked about the things he and his coaching staff would be watching down the stretch this season as they decide how far over his previous workload(s) to take him.

“The thing is that we really look at his mechanics now,” Martinez said, “... and making sure that he’s on his legs, that his arm’s not dragging. It’s purely right now mechanics with him. So for today it’s just about getting early strikes, getting ahead of hitters. He struggled with that in his last outing. And working ahead, and throwing strikes. We want him to utilize his fastball a lot more than relying on just breaking balls, so we want him to go out there hopefully and pound the strike zone early with his fastballs, and then go to his secondary pitches, so we’ll see what happens.”

Through 25 starts, Gray had a 5.06 ERA, a 5.97 FIP, 60 walks, 145 Ks, and a .240/.325/.503 line against in 131 23 IP overall, with the Nationals spacing out his outings to try to get the starter through the end of the schedule.

“[Pitching Coach Jim] Hickey and I, we’re watching him carefully,” Martinez said of the plan going forward.

“I know he doesn’t want to slow down, he wants to keep going. But we’ll see how he does today. We’ve been giving him these extra couple days off to keep him from going out there every five days, and because he’s a competitor he wants to be out there every five days, which is great, and I love that about him. I’ll tell him, and I’ll tell you guys, if we’re getting close to a pennant race or anything, there might be days where you have to pitch every four days. So that day will come, but for right now we’ve got to take care of Josiah. He’s a big part of our future.”

More than the results in his appearances, Martinez said, they want to make sure his delivery and his mechanics are where they expect them to be and they’re monitoring it all with all of the tools at their disposal.

“The performance to me — he can be — like in the beginning of the year there were some outings where he just couldn’t throw strikes,” the manager said.

MLB: Miami Marlins at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

“He was strong as a bull. I’m not worried about his performance, I’m worried more about if he’s trying to overthrow, if we see like he’s not utilizing his body like he’s done before. And we can always tell because we have so much information going on and so much data going on that we can see that kind of thing.

“So if he pitches today, and tomorrow we see something that’s really, really not right, it will be another conversation that we’ll have as a group. And then we’ll dictate. But if everything goes well tonight, and we feel that he’s staying in on his legs, and his arm is in the position where it needs to be, then we’ll come up with another plan whether it’s five days from now, whether it’s seven days from now.

“But the thing is we’ll always communicate to him tomorrow or the next day about what his plan is moving forward.”

Gray ended up going five innings against the Fish, giving up five hits, three walks, and four earned runs in a 90-pitch, 63-strike outing, in which he recorded 16 called strikes (spread fairly evenly among his four pitches), but got just six swinging strikes, with 25 of 90 pitches fouled off in the outing.

Light At The End, Etc.:

GM Mike Rizzo, in the final weeks of a long, loss-filled campaign in the first full season of the Nationals’ organization-wide reboot, was asked by 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies this past Wednesday where he’s at at this point: Is he enjoying watching and evaluating all of the young players as they develop, or is he ready to put this year behind him and move on to preparing for a hopefully more competitive 2023 run?

“To be truthful with you, it’s a little bit of both,” Rizzo told the Junkies. “You can see the end of the season coming, it’s been a long season, a lot of guys are kind of like inching their way to the finish line, and some of the veteran players are nicked up and that kind of thing, but what — we went into this thing when we started this reboot, it was a very challenging time in our franchise’s history, and we in the front office embraced it. It was something that nobody wants to do, you’d rather have that veteran-laden team that gives you a chance to win every day, and that type of thing, and then when you go into these kind of tear-down things where you have to try to reboot and try to win in the future, it’s tough, but we took it as an exciting challenge, it really — it really shows what the front office is doing in the game.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Washington Nationals James A. Pittman-USA TODAY Sports

“And at least right now the fans can see what is on the horizon, and what’s in the future. When you see guys like [Keibert] Ruiz, and [CJ] Abrams, and [Luis] García, and [Josiah] Gray, and [Cade] Cavalli, and MacKenzie Gore, and you can see what those guys are doing in the minor leagues, like in Fredericksburg and that type of thing, there’s a sense of excitement each and every night, but also frustration that we’re not winning on a consistent enough basis.”

There is also, of course, the fact that the owners of the franchise are reportedly actively entertaining a number of offers for the ballclub Rizzo and Co. are in the process of rebooting, but the GM in D.C. said he doesn’t let the potential sale of the team affect the work he and his staff are doing. So it’s not top of mind?

“It is not,” Rizzo, who had his option for 2023 exercised back in July, told the Junkies. “I rarely if ever think about it. It’s control the controllable. I do what I do, I know what my immediate future is all about. We’re business as usual, grind it out and working hard like we would every other year, and what happens happens, and we want to put ourselves in a position to be back as a championship-caliber organization in the very, very near future, so that’s our goal, that’s what we work for each and every day, and you wake up and go to the ballpark and try to find ways to get better that day and each and every day after that.”

Getting Ready For The Fastball:

Grouped together, Joey Meneses, the Nationals’ 30-year-old rookie, has a .293 batting average on “fastballs” this season (before Friday’s game) and a .367 AVG on “offspeed” pitches.

Pretty good either way, with a better average on offspeed stuff, more on that in a minute.

Meneses has seen 29.1% four-seam fastballs so far in a month-plus in the majors, with a .390 AVG on four-seamers, but he has a .241 AVG on sinkers (18.3%), and .083 AVG on cutters (10.2%), versus his .314 AVG on sliders (23.1%), and his .300 AVG on changeups (10.5%). He had seen just 8.6% curveballs (.500 AVG), and a couple splitters (0.3%, 1 for 1) according to Baseball Savant’s pitch tracker.

“He handles velocity well, and he handles offspeed and breaking pitches,” GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies earlier this month, when asked to assess Meneses’s success at the plate in his first major league run, following 10 seasons in the minors and playing the game internationally.

“I think that’s a credit to the amount of games he’s played in the Mexican League, which is a very offspeed-[oriented] league,” Rizzo said of Meneses handling offspeed stuff well, “... and I think that has helped him, and I think he handles soft stuff as well as velocity as good as any player we’ve seen in a while.”

Manager Davey Martinez was asked this week about Meneses’s relative success against offspeed stuff versus fastballs, and he said it’s about timing right now.

MLB: SEP 13 Orioles at Nationals Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

“He’s just a tad late on fastballs,” the fifth-year manager said. “We got to get him ready to hit the fastballs, see the fastballs out front. … When he does hit the ball, he hits the ball fairly hard, but in this league you can only do that so much, and before you know it, teams catch on, they’re going to throw a lot more fastballs to him, he needs to start getting ready a little earlier, and be ready to hit the fastball.”

Is a hitter better off being good against offspeed to start, and learning to handle velocity, or the other way around, able to hit velo, while needing to adjust to the elite-level offspeed, or breaking pitches, they see in the majors?

“For me, it’s a balance of both,” Martinez explained. “It really is. If you think about it, right? You want to be ready to hit the fastball. I think I explained this before, right?

“So, as a catcher, we talk about if you put down a breaking ball, and you’re expecting a breaking ball, and the guy throws you a 100 MPH fastball, more than likely you’re either going to wear one in the mask of the umpire is going to wear one, right? And vice-versa, you have time to react to a breaking ball, so with that being said, I’d rather be ready to hit the fastball, and be able to react to any breaking ball, and I think that’s what we try to teach everybody, ‘Hit the fastball.’

“Lane [Thomas] is that way. We got to tell Lane all the time, ‘Hey, be ready to hit the fastball, and don’t miss it.’ And then he works — he can react on breaking balls. He’s a way better fastball hitter, as we know, but Joey’s done a good job of staying on the breaking balls, and hitting them. It probably makes him a pretty decent hitter with two strikes as well, but as you know, they’re starting to pitch him a little bit backwards ... but when he does get a breaking ball, he hits them hard. But it seems like with two strikes, they’re trying to throw a lot more fastballs at him, so he’s just got to be ready.”

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