Nationals show caution in handling pitching trio of Cavalli, Gore, Gray

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Nats show caution in handling trio of Cavalli, Gore, Gray originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

WASHINGTON — Four days after making his MLB debut, Nationals right-hander Cade Cavalli is headed to the injured list. Manager Davey Martinez announced Tuesday that the 24-year-old felt “discomfort” in his shoulder during a throwing session Saturday and an MRI revealed some inflammation.

“After about 10 throws, he said he felt tight in the shoulder area,” Martinez said. “So we shut him down. He came in, we got him an MRI right away…everything looks good except for he has a little bit of inflammation around the capsule. But the labrum tendons, the rotator cuff, everything's very, very clean. So we're gonna be very, very cautious.”

Though there is only a little over a month left in the regular season — with the playoffs well out of reach — the Nationals will hope to get Cavalli in a game again before the end of the year. He was scheduled to face the Oakland A’s on Thursday after going four and a third innings with seven runs allowed and six strikeouts in his first taste of the majors last week against the Cincinnati Reds.

Cavalli’s injury is a significant one for the Nationals (43-85), who have touted him as a potential fixture in the rotation for years to come alongside Josiah Gray and MacKenzie Gore. The team had already decided to skip Gray’s start this week to keep his innings total down while Gore threw 35 pitches in a bullpen session Tuesday as he works his way back from an elbow injury.

Gore, 23, originally hit the 15-Day Injured List with elbow inflammation as a member of the San Diego Padres in late July, but that didn’t stop the Nationals from acquiring him in the Juan Soto/Josh Bell trade deadline deal. Despite changing medical staffs in the middle of his rehab, he’s targeted a return this season ever since his MRI showed no structural damage.

“Obviously, right after the MRI — thank God it wasn’t what we thought it was,” Gore said. “That was the first reaction and then it was, kinda figure out how to get it better and hopefully, at that point, pitch and help the team win.”

Both Gore (101 innings in 2019) and Cavalli (123 1/3 innings in 2021) are unlikely to eclipse their career highs in innings, both set while they were working their way through the minor leagues. Gray, however, could surpass his previous high of 130 set in 2019 as soon as his next outing. Martinez doesn’t want any of them to make too significant a jump in one year.

“Back to my Tampa days, back to Chicago when we had young pitchers, it seems like it averages out to about a 20% increase in jumps in innings,” Martinez said of his goal for young starters’ inning progression. “And that's kind of how we're seeing things right now. I think that's kind of the safe bet.”

To maintain a 20% increase in workload, both Gore and Cavalli would need to have their innings managed in 2023. They had already skipped a few starts this year and their respective injuries will prevent them from progressing toward the 200-plus innings necessary for a workhorse starting pitcher to throw over a full major-league season.

For now, the club is giving each of them something to work toward: pitching at least one more time in 2022.

“I don’t want these guys going into the winter – especially on MacKenzie – know that he was on the IL,” Martinez said. We want to see him, whether, who knows what we’re going to do, whether it’s maybe have him throw a sim game, but just make sure that he gets out there and throws it so that he feels comfortable going into the winter saying, ‘Hey, look, I felt great. Now I can go ahead and do my winter program and be ready for Spring Training.’

“We’re going to spend the next few weeks of just watching these guys and watching them progress and see where we’re at.”