The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Why the Nationals put Cade Cavalli, Cole Henry and Brady House on pause

Prospect Cade Cavalli hasn't pitched since June 16, but General Manager Mike Rizzo says the Nationals just want to get him some rest. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

ARLINGTON, Tex. — Concerted load management is a new theme for the Washington Nationals’ player development operation. The latest to experience that are their top three prospects: Cade Cavalli, Cole Henry and Brady House.

Cavalli, a 23-year-old righty, has not pitched since June 16 and could wind up skipping multiple starts. Henry, a 22-year-old righty, is on the seven-day injured list with what General Manager Mike Rizzo called shoulder tenderness. And House, a 19-year-old shortstop, is on the seven-day IL with back soreness.

“We’re putting the [focus] on playing deep into the season, through the minor league season and being available beyond,” Rizzo said before the Nationals’ 2-1 win at Globe Life Field on Friday. “Because our plan is always to play through October … I think we’ve kind of adapted that, kind of morphed into that being the best way to achieve the goals. The goal for player development is to develop these guys mentally, physically and emotionally to finish a full major league season. And we think these little breaks in between …”

Rizzo didn’t finish the thought. But the idea, as he further explained, is to give breathers now instead of shutting down players in August or September. Cavalli has spent all season with the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings, learning to command his secondary pitches in the zone. Henry was promoted to Rochester in early June after dominating for the Class AA Harrisburg Senators. House, the club’s first-round pick last summer, has been with the low-Class A Fredericksburg Nationals, pairing a very productive April with some recent struggles at the plate.

Cavalli’s season stats: 12 starts, a 4.87 ERA, 8.8 strikeouts per nine innings and 3.9 walks.

Henry’s stats between AA and AAA (with the Nationals limiting him to short starts because of his recent injury history): nine starts, a 1.71 ERA, 9.7 strikeouts per nine and 3.1 walks.

And House’s offensive numbers: 203 plate appearances, eight doubles, three homers and a batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage slash line of .278/.356/.375.

Cade Cavalli imagined this life

As for holding back Cavalli and Henry, Rizzo recognized their desire to pitch and prove themselves. But the Nationals have already eased off right-handers Jake Irvin and Rodney Theophile in recent weeks. They have also carefully brought along Matt Cronin, a left-handed reliever who had a 0.00 ERA in Harrisburg (16⅓ innings) and is taking his lumps in AAA.

“Their job is to pitch, and their job is to get to the big leagues,” Rizzo said. “So they figure the more they pitch, the better chance they have to get to the big leagues. That’s why we have to give them a global view of their career, and how to not only get ready to get to the big leagues, but to stay in the big leagues and to achieve what we want them to achieve.”

Rizzo predicted Henry will be shut down for another week, and House for about 10 days. Cavalli’s timeline, on the other hand, was a bit less clear. Rizzo told reporters “there’s nothing wrong with Cade.” In his most recent appearance, he threw a wild pitch in the fifth, was checked out by Manager Matthew LeCroy, pitching coach Rafael Chaves and Rochester’s athletic trainer, then recorded two more outs to finish the inning.

Cavalli’s velocity was down a few ticks. After the outing, he only reported general arm soreness to the team, according to two people with knowledge of the situation. But that was enough to convince Washington to hit the pause button. Another consideration was that Cavalli wasn’t a full-time pitcher until 2020 and threw 123⅓ innings last year.

“We want them to pitch throughout the whole season,” Rizzo reiterated. “So we figure if they get their 25 starts, we’re going to spread them out a little bit. And we think after about 10 starts is a good time to give them a breather. Now, with Cavalli, I think this [was] his 12th start and we’re giving him a break, too. That’s just our minor league protocol for players.”