“He was going to be that fifth starter,” Washington Nationals’ manager Dave Martinez told reporters after top pitching prospect Cade Cavalli suffered, “... a grade three sprain of his ulnar collateral ligament which [required] Tommy John surgery,” as the club announced this past spring.
Cavalli, now 25, and a 2020 1st Round pick by the Nationals, acknowledged his obvious disappointment with the injury, which cost him all of the 2023 season, but he said he’d quickly moved on to accepting the reality of his situation.
“I gave myself a little bit of time to cry and to hurt,” Cavalli said, as quoted by MLB.com’s Jessica Camerato:
“But during that meeting with them, it was just like: It is what it is, and it’s time. It was a little flip switch, and I’m ready. I am. I’m ready to rock. I’m going to be back, and I’m going to be better, I promise.”
“It’s adversity,” Cavalli added, “and you’ve just got to love on the adversity.”
“I think that’s the only way you can [view it],” Cavalli explained:
“The way I live my life is, I try to manage everything with a neutral mindset and I want to try to make the next best choice ahead. I think that the next best choice ahead for me is get that surgery and do whatever it takes, and do whatever the doctor and our staff tell me. Whatever that plan is, I’m going to go execute it.”
Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo told reporters he was confident Cavalli would attack rehab as hard as he prepared for the ‘23 season.
“I do know one thing,” Rizzo explained.
“He’s going to rehab with the same ferocity and attitude that he pitches with. Although he was a little emotional at the beginning, and that’s normal, I think it’s safe to say this guy is going to be a rehab machine and really get after it, and really make himself better when he comes back.”
Seven months later, Cavalli, who turned 25 in August, was back in the nation’s capital, preparing to throw for the first time after the surgery.
“We’ve got Cade here,” Martinez said in mid-September.
“It’s possible he might even play catch this week, so it would be good to watch him. So we’re gonna do some measurements and stuff on him and see where he’s at. It’s good to see him.”
“We’re getting really close for him to start playing catch … because everything’s going so well. So that’s great news for him and for us.
“As we all know, this is a process. When you have Tommy John, it really doesn’t change too much from what you’re supposed to be doing. But everything’s going well.”
Having Cavalli back with his teammates in D.C. was big for the manager too.
“I really feel like he’s one of the guys,” Martinez said. “If he didn’t get hurt, he definitely would have broke with us. He belongs here, and I want him to feel that way. And like I said, it’s still gonna be a process, but we’ll get him going. Hopefully get him to Spring Training, he’ll still be ramping up and getting ready to throw and then when he’s ready, he’ll be on a rehab assignment next year and get him going and see where he’s at.”
The next day, Cavalli did, in fact, throw for the first time since his surgery.
“It’s progress,” Martinez said. “I talked to him afterwards and the first couple of throws felt like he’d never thrown before, which we knew that would happen. But he’s happy. We’re happy he’s headed in the right direction.”
“I have been visualizing that moment since pretty much the time that I tore it,” Cavalli told reporters, as quoted on MLB.com.
“Now that it’s here, it was just very surreal. It felt great.”
As big a step as it was, Martinez said the right-hander has to stick to the process, good as he might feel about throwing.
Cade Cavalli, Disgusting 91mph Changeup...and 100mph ⛽️ pic.twitter.com/vbcq3VAX1X— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 12, 2021
“They feel like once they hit that hurdle where they can throw they just want to ramp up and this is a pivotal point right now so they got to understand that he’s got a long way to go, and we just got to build him up and not let him get out over his skis right away, just kind of slow down the process, but they’ll start feeling really good and wanting to get going, wanting to get on the mound, but it’s a process. Like I said, Tommy John takes a while, and we’re going to make sure he sticks to that process.”
Cavalli said he was completely on board with the plan and the process of working carefully as possible.
“You can’t just come out of the gates firing, you’ve got to ease into it. I trust our staff here, and they’re going to hold me back, make sure that I’m at the right velocity throughout this progression.”
Unlike other pitchers who might take time off before ramping up this winter, and getting ready for Spring Training, Martinez said, Cavalli would keep throwing and trying to build strength throughout the offseason.
“He’s going to build up, he’s going to build up, get him going. Like I said, Tommy John has been a major surgery in this sport for many, many years, so they have a process that they go through and this is part of it, so he’ll keep going and like I said the objective is to get him ready to pitch some time in the summer of next year.”
Cade Cavalli, Wicked Breaking Balls.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 25, 2022
And a Sword. ⚔️ pic.twitter.com/33WcJhyISn
“He has no offseason right now.”
Having him with the team, something the club did at times during his rehab was an attempt to keep him part of things, and then having him throw in D.C. gave the Nationals’ brass an opportunity to put eyes on Cavalli and see for themselves how he had progressed over the summer.
“We wanted to put eyes on him,” Martinez said. “We’re going through our due diligence with him as far as his measurements, see where he’s at, seeing his strength and wanting to watch him throw his first time, so I think it was a big deal for all us including him to have him here and do it here at Nats Park.