One of the Nationals’ brightest starters is now out for all of 2023. Right-hander Cade Cavalli, who seemed like a good bet to be a part of the Nats rotation this season, will undergo Tommy John surgery that will keep him out until next year. It’s a tough blow for the Nationals, as Cavalli shaped up to be a bright spot for a rebuilding organization.
Related: 2023 MLB Fantasy: Five Starting Pitcher Sleepers To Watch in 2023
A Look at Cavalli
Nationals RHP Cade Cavalli — who certainly turned heads this spring — made his MLB debut late last year after he tore threw the Minors in 2021-22. Heading into 2023, the next step in Cavalli’s development was to push for a rotation spot — a goal that seemed within reach prior to March 15.
Over his first 5.2 IP this spring, Cavalli sported a tidy 1.59 ERA and struck out seven, good for fourth on the Nationals. His spring prematurely ending on the 15th, when he left his outing against the Mets with an arm injury. That turned out to be a Grade 3 UCL sprain, which will require UCL reconstruction surgery that’s set to cost him all of 2023.
The former University of Oklahoma star seemed poised to claim a rotation spot for a rebuilding Nationals team. Now, Washington will need to wait until 2024 to see its bright star.
What it Means
With Cavalli now done for all of 2023, the focus shifts to how the Nationals can adjust its rotation plans for this season. The young right-hander seemed poised to be part of a Nats rotation that’s set to include Patrick Corbin, Trevor Williams, Josiah Gray, and MacKenzie Gore. Stephen Strasburg, who has missed most of the past three seasons, has yet to be a participant in Spring Training activities thus far.
The question now becomes who can fill Cavalli’s role in the rotation. Washington does have veteran Paolo Espino, who made 19 starts for the Nats in 2022, back for this season. Espino did much better as a reliever (2.19 ERA over 29.2 IP) as compared as a starter (5.81 ERA over 83.2 IP), but he does have experience in the rotation. Or, Washington could opt for a non-roster invitee like Chad Kuhl.
Kuhl’s started 111 MLB games in his career, but last year was a struggle for him in Colorado. The right-hander recorded a 5.72 ERA in the hitter-friendly confines of Coors Field, the third-worst ERA among pitchers that threw over 100 innings last year. Oddly enough, the only two pitchers with a worst ERA in 2022 were both Nationals: Erick Fedde (5.81) and Patrick Corbin (6.31). The 30-year-old hasn’t done much better this spring. The ex-Rockie owns a 8.59 ERA over 7.1 IP.
Another name to watch is Rule 5 draft pick Thad Ward. While Ward did seem pegged to be a reliever for the Nationals this season, the former Red Sox prospect does have a considerable amount of experience starting games in the Minors. Last season with Portland (AA), Ward posted a 2.43 ERA over 33.1 IP. He’s been used exclusively as a reliever thus far in the spring, and hasn’t thrown more than 2.1 IP in an outing.
Plain and simple, this is a tough blow for the Nationals. While Washington appeared to be the clubhouse favorite to finish in late in the NL East, a group of young, talented pitchers like Gray, Gore, and Cavalli are potential bright spots. Unfortunately, the Nationals are now down one hurler and will towards alternate options to give the team quality innings. That, however, was hard to come by in 2022.