Just four days after his much-anticipated major league debut, Cade Cavalli is heading to the injured list. Washington Manager Dave Martinez announced Tuesday afternoon, before a 10-6 loss to the Oakland Athletics, that the Nationals’ top pitching prospect will be shut down for two weeks and placed on the 15-day IL with shoulder inflammation.
Cavalli debuted Friday against the Cincinnati Reds. The right-hander felt discomfort while playing catch Saturday, then had an MRI exam Sunday that showed inflammation but no structural damage. Martinez said the Nationals haven’t decided to shut him down for the season, but only about three weeks will remain when he is eligible to return from the injured list.
“Cade says he feels good today, but we need to be very, very cautious,” Martinez said before Tuesday’s loss at Nationals Park. “We’re talking about a kid that’s part of a big future of ours. So we’re going to take it easy. And hopefully we can knock this out in a couple of weeks, and then we’ll reevaluate after that.”
Martinez said he wanted Cavalli to work with the team’s medical staff and try to return this season instead of shutting it down entirely, though the manager said that option is on the table even if things go as planned. Cavalli will travel with the Nationals as he rehabs, doing core and leg drills in addition to strengthening exercises.
“He understands that he’s got to work,” Martinez said. “He’s not going to just sit around and do nothing. I know he can’t throw for two weeks, but there’s a lot of other things that he can do to get better, and he’s willing to do that.”
Cavalli, 24, stands fourth among all players in the Nationals’ farm system, according to MLB Pipeline. Washington added him with the 22nd pick of the 2020 draft out of Oklahoma. Even after the Nationals bolstered their minor league system with top prospects netted in the Juan Soto trade, Cavalli was seen as a huge building block for Washington’s future.
After rising quickly through the minors, he made his major league debut Friday in a 7-3 loss to the visiting Reds. With six strikeouts, he showed why the Nationals are so high on him. But he didn’t consistently command his pitches, leading to seven earned runs charged to him in 4⅓ innings.
Martinez said Cavalli didn’t express any discomfort immediately after his start, so he called it a “surprise to all of us” when he said something felt off the following day. Despite the injury, Martinez said, Cavalli has continued to be upbeat the past few days — about his shoulder and his future.
But Cavalli’s injury is yet another blow to a rotation that has been saddled with injuries all season. After rehabbing from surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome, Stephen Strasburg made just one start before returning to the injured list with a rib issue. Joe Ross had Tommy John surgery for a second time. Rookies Jackson Tetreault and Evan Lee debuted but ended up on the injured list as well.
Aníbal Sánchez dealt with a neck impingement that kept him out of the rotation until July 14. Erick Fedde, who couldn’t finish the third inning Tuesday and took the loss, dealt with shoulder inflammation that kept him out for around a month.
Cavalli was slated to make his second start Thursday against the Athletics; the Nationals haven’t announced who will pitch in his place. Righty Cory Abbott, who has bounced between Class AAA Rochester and Washington, could be a possibility.
The last-place Nationals (43-86) are likely to manage Cavalli as they have their other young pitchers — by focusing on the future. MacKenzie Gore, a 23-year-old southpaw acquired in the Soto trade, was on the injured list with left elbow inflammation when he was acquired; he threw 35 pitches in his second bullpen session with the Nationals ahead of Tuesday’s game. And Martinez has said the Nationals want to limit the innings of Josiah Gray, 24, by skipping some starts down the stretch.
When Cavalli was with Rochester, he didn’t pitch for two weeks in June, an attempt to manage his innings. It’s unclear whether he will make another start this season, but for now the Nationals want him to focus on getting healthy so he can help them in the future.
“And he understands that,” Martinez said. “... He’s about as positive as they come — he really is. He’s a go-getter, and his focus is trying to help us win as many games as possible whenever that is.”
What happened in Tuesday’s game? The teams combined for 10 runs and 16 hits in the first three innings. The Athletics scored a run in the first, but Lane Thomas led off the bottom half with a solo homer. Washington tacked on another run in the first and two more in the second to jump ahead 4-1.
But Fedde allowed six runs on nine hits, including three in a row with two outs in the third that allowed the Athletics to tie the score. Hunter Harvey entered and allowed a two-run double to Tony Kemp that gave Oakland a 6-4 lead. For Fedde, his downfall again was his inability to put batters away early, leading to high-leverage situations and a high pitch count (76).
The Nationals scored in the fourth to cut their deficit to one, but Steve Cishek allowed a fifth-inning grand slam to Sean Murphy (which followed a pair of walks) to give the Athletics (49-81) a five-run cushion. That lead finished at four after Luis García hit a home run, his fifth, in the eighth inning.