Notes: Sánchez returns; Cavalli (6 K's) dominates in ST game

March 20th, 2022

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Aníbal Sánchez dropped by manager Dave Martinez’s office Sunday morning around 8 o’clock -- five hours before game time -- singing, “Guess who’s back.”

“I said, ‘Oh boy, here we go,’” Martinez recounted with a laugh.

There was plenty for Sánchez to be joyful about. The 38-year-old right-hander said he felt “grateful” as he took the first step in his comeback to the Major Leagues after sitting out in 2021. He signed a Minor League contract with the Nationals this month, and he is aiming to earn a spot in the starting rotation for what would be his 16th season (and third with Washington).

“I think everything is fresh,” Sánchez said following the Nationals’ 3-2 win over the Astros. “I wasn’t off because of injury; I was off because I decided to stay off. That’s a good thing [in] the end. I’m just building my arm right now to prepare for the season.”

Sánchez rejoins the Nationals with a career 112-113 record and a 4.05 ERA over 1,948 1/3 innings. He had last pitched in the bigs on Sept. 26, 2020. Martinez has noted an improvement in Sánchez’s extension since then, while Sánchez is working on staying loose and keeping the ball in the strike zone.

On Sunday, Sánchez tossed 2 1/3 scoreless frames with no hits, two walks and three strikeouts. He was able to extend into the third inning thanks to a low pitch count. The Nationals plan to keep him on a five-day pitching schedule for games, and they would like him to reach four innings in his next outing.

“Up to 93 [mph]. I was like, ‘Whoa, slow down a little bit,’” Martinez said with a smile. “He threw the ball well. He said he was a little amped up his first time back. I told him, ‘Just work ahead.’ It’s important for him to throw strike one. He was good. It was good to see.”

No. 1 prospect Cavalli dominates
Shifting from veterans to prospects, highly-touted right-hander Cade Cavalli made his Spring Training in dominating fashion. Cavalli, ranked the Nats’ No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline, struck out six of his 10 batters faced while allowing one hit (a double) and no walks in two scoreless innings.

“Cade looked really good today,” Martinez said. “The biggest thing for him is repeating his mechanics and throwing strikes. He did both today really well, so that was really good to see.”

Cavalli’s offseason work on filling up the strike zone, forcing batters to swing at his pitches and tallying quick outs, was evident. He set the tone for his outing by striking out the side in the seventh inning. Cavalli’s mindset is to attack each outing as if he is going to have a strong performance rather than wait to get into a rhythm.

“Personally, I think I’m going to do that every time out and until it doesn’t happen, then I’m like, ‘OK, well it didn’t happen today because I prepare that way,’” he said. “It’s in my head that I want those results every time, so that’s how I prepare.”

Washington selected Cavalli with the 22nd overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft. Last season, he rose from High-A to Triple-A while leading all Minor League players in strikeouts across 123 1/3 innings. Cavalli could join the Nationals’ starting rotation during this season, but the club is not going to rush his big league debut with only one year of pro-level experience.

“Any time I get out there and I see someone else in my box, I think that they’re in the way of a ‘W,’” Cavalli said. “I want to be out there, and I want to compete to win and win every pitch. That’s how you have to pitch -- it really is one pitch at a time.”