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Washington Nationals news & notes: Spring Training games begin; young arms at work

Some of the Nationals’ young pitching prospects went to work this past weekend in Grapefruit League action...

MLB: Spring Training-Washington Nationals Workouts Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Cade Draws An Audience/Makes 2023 Debut:

Cade Cavalli made it to the majors last season, two years after he was drafted in the first round in 2020 by Washington, but he made just one start for the Nationals before he got injured and landed on the IL with inflammation in his right shoulder. Cavalli rehabbed for the last few weeks of the 2022 campaign, but didn’t return to the mound in the majors.

Looking back on the season as a whole, and his successes and struggles at Triple-A and then in the big leagues, Cavalli thought he put together a good run overall.

“I sat back and I thought about things that I could have done better, and things I that I did great that I’d like to keep improving on. And I thought it was a really good year,” the 24-year-old right-hander said in an interview on MASN’s Hot Stove show this winter.

MLB: Spring Training-Houston Astros at Washington Nationals Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

“My main goal always is to stay healthy, so whenever [injuries] happened, that was a little frustrating, but the only thing you could do was look at the next best choice ahead which was go get that thing stronger and get better and that’s been my approach.

“I was pleased with last season, but I’d like to go in there and prove a little bit more and go help the club get some Ws this year.”

His focus this winter and in Spring Training, he said, was/is throwing the ball over the plate.

“I think that if I just go and trust my stuff and compete in the zone, that’s really all I can control,” Cavalli explained.

“Once the ball leaves my hand, it’s out of my control, so I’m going to do everything up until that point to prepare. And I want to figure out how to read scouting reports better, which I’m very excited about that, and just competing in the zone like I said, trusting the stuff and letting the results be the results.”

His manager, Davey Martinez, talked with reporters last week about the crowds gathered in West Palm Beach, FL’s FITTEAM Ballpark when Cavalli’s throwing, when he was asked if their presence for his throwing sessions affects the pitcher, or adds pressure for him to show he is ready to pitch in the majors this season and take a rotation spot out of the gate, which his manager said is “not set in stone” early this spring.

So did Martinez think Cavalli noticed the big league skipper, GM Mike Rizzo, and members of the Nationals’ front office watching him throw?

“I don’t think he knew we were there,” Martinez explained. “He gets on that mound, and he’s driven by doing everything right, he really is. He understands where he’s at — he’s young, he’s one of our guys, but the biggest thing for him is to focus on throwing strikes. His stuff is really good. His stuff plays. I don’t think he’s trying to make an impression on anybody, I think he’s just going out there and trying to compete. Because he is a competitor, and he loves to win.”

One of the things the Nationals want Cavalli to focus on this spring and this season is his curveball, and throwing it more, and in the right spots, something his manager said is an important part of his development.

“It’s good,” he said of Cavalli’s breaking ball, “sharp, late break, and we love it. My big thing with that is getting him to land it for strikes early in counts. That’s going to make his fastball that much better, and that’s something that we talked to him about. There’s nothing wrong with his shape, nothing wrong with — it’s just being able to land it on occasion for strikes, so we’re trying to teach him how to throw it early for strikes, and like I said it will make his fastball that much better.”

Cavalli retired the side in order in his 2023 Grapefruit League debut on Sunday, throwing 15 pitches and picking up a backwards K in the club’s win over the Houston Astros.

He said after the outing the shoulder issue from last season is completely behind him at this point.

“There’s been a lot of work, and it’s good to see that in a real game situation,” Cavalli said, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.

“I was happy with how I felt physically, how I felt mentally. I just know the work I put in, I trust it and I have confidence in it.”

Rutledge Too:

The Nationals’ 2019 1st Round pick Jackson Rutledge threw 12 pitches, nine of them strikes in his 2023 Grapefruit League debut versus the New York Mets on Sunday afternoon, and Washington’s 23-year-old, 6’8’’ right-hander threw eight (67%) four-seam fastballs, with his average velocity up at 97 MPH as he retired the side in order in a quick, impressive outing.

MLB: Spring Training-Washington Nationals at New York Mets Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

A few days beforehand, big league skipper Davey Martinez talked about what he wanted to see from the pitcher currently ranked 12th overall (the 4th-highest RHP behind Cade Cavalli, Cole Henry, and Jarlin Susana) in the Nationals’ minor league system by MLB Pipeline.

“Just strikes,” Martinez said. “I want him to pound the strike zone. He’s got really good stuff, he really does, and the more strikes he throws the easier it’s going to be for him. We’re looking for him just to attack the strike zone, stay in command, but he’s one of our future guys, right? So he made big strides last year, so we’re hoping [for] one, his health, and two is that he pounds the strike zone.”