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Washington Nationals news & notes: Cade Cavalli Ks five; shift talk + more...

Catch up on the weekend that was as the Nationals work their way through Spring Training...

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

Cavalli Ks 5:

Cade Cavalli gave up an absolute bomb of a home run to the second batter he faced on Saturday afternoon, when he took over for Josiah Gray on the mound in the third inning, with St. Louis Cardinals’ prospect Jordan Walker hitting a center-cut 0-2 pitch onto the concourse in left-center in The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.

Cavalli, 24, picked up two Ks in the frame, then struck out three straight after giving up a leadoff walk in the fourth, finishing the day with five strikeouts from nine batters faced in what ended up a 37-pitch effort by the 2020 Nats’ 1st Round pick, who’s in camp fighting with the hope of making the starting rotation come Opening Day.

As for the home run he allowed?

“There was a mistake in there that I paid for,” Cavalli said, as quoted by MASN’s Bobby Blanco, on Saturday afternoon.

“I made the mistake and, I mean, that ball should have been hit out of the yard, and it was.

“I’m gonna look back on and just try to not make that mistake again. That’s it. … I was trying to go up and in. Just make him feel a little bit uncomfortable.

“And I missed practically middle-middle. So it was a bad mistake, and bad things happen when that occurs.”

The top pitching prospect in the organization was happy with the outing overall though, which left him with six Ks in three innings pitched so far this spring.

“I actually thought everything was working really well,” Cavalli said, as quoted by’s Paige Leckie.

“The movement on [my secondary stuff] was great. I felt very comfortable with all the pitches in the ‘pen, and that carried out into the game. The slider, the changeup and I think the curveball I threw mostly, and I was able to land that early and get them off the fastball a little bit.”

In his two outings, Cavalli explained, he’s been focused on pounding the strike zone and applying pressure to opposing hitters.

“My goal coming in, I want to apply pressure to the hitters. I felt like I did that well,” he said.

“Land secondary stuff consistently, and just apply pressure and work quick, throw strikes. I felt like that’s what I did today.”

Shift Happens:

Talking with reporters last month, as Washington’s Nationals got going with Spring Training 2023, GM Mike Rizzo said the new rules in Major League Baseball this season, and the shift ban in particular, did impact their thinking when they got around to signing free agents this winter.

“The shift came into play on a couple of decisions, you know, especially left-handed hitters,” Rizzo explained, “but we just wanted ourselves — to give ourselves the best chance to win games, and we’re working within our confines, and we’ve got some guys that have chips on their shoulders that have something to prove, that have shown success in the past, but had a down season or so. We’ve done that in the past, with [Kyle] Schwarber, and we traded for Josh Bell on a down season, and they turned out to be who they are, and we’re hoping that these guys, [Dominic] Smith, and [Jeimer] Candelario, and some of these other guys turn into the players that they’ve been in the past and that we think they can get back to in the future.”

Smith, 27, said after signing on in D.C. he’s not alone in thinking the shift ban will benefit left-handed hitters like himself.

“I don’t feel like I’m the only lefty to feel this way,” he said. “I’m sure there are a lot of lefties in the league [that] feel this way. I think it’s going to help a lot of guys. That shift — whether the numbers say it did or didn’t affect me, I feel like personally it did affect me, so to just have that even playing field where all the defenders are normally — where they should be, I think it will open up a lot of hits for lefties, especially line drives up the middle, those line drives to short right field, now you’re not worrying about three guys on one side of the field.

“I think it will help a lot of lefties out in the long run and I can’t wait to see some of our numbers at the end of the year.”

“We looked at Jeimer [Candelario] and his numbers and the amount of ground balls he did hit to the pull side, and we thought, hey, it could definitely help him,” Nats’ manager Davey Martinez said this winter, when he too talked about how the shift ban affected the club’s thinking as they looked at the free agents available this winter.

“Here’s a guy that he’s hit doubles before,” the skipper added.

“Last year, after talking to him for a while, he got caught up in really trying to hit home runs, and I told him, I said, ‘Let’s get you back to using the whole field, and good things will happen.’”

Candelario, a switch hitter, said he too thought the new rules would benefit a lot of hitters in the league.

“They’re going to help not only me, a lot of guys,” Candelario said. “They’re going to help a lot of guys because they’re not going to worry about, ‘Oh, I have to hit the ball the other way, or I have to hit the ball [for] a home run. It’s going to be true, and for — and it’s all mental, and I think it’s going to take a lot of stuff from the mental side of the guys, of the lefty hitters, and it’s going to be more free. You’re not going to think too much, you just got to hit the ball and it’s going to play somewhere.”

Of course, as the Nationals’ manager noted this winter, teams around the league will test what they can still do within the new rules.

“Obviously we’re going to play kind of a normal defense, what we consider normal, but how much can we get away with moving guys?” he asked.