'Very, very exciting': Cavalli K's 6 in MLB debut

August 27th, 2022

WASHINGTON --  had been anticipating his Major League debut for a while. Not in the sense that he was getting anxious and impatient, but rather prepared through daily meditation and visualization.

“I put myself on that mound plenty of times before I got there,” Cavalli said. “So I felt like I had already been there. It was really cool.”

Cavalli -- ranked as the Nationals’ No. 4 prospect, per MLB Pipeline -- tossed 4 1/3 innings on Friday in the Nationals’ 7-3 loss to the Reds. The 24-year-old right-hander allowed seven runs, six hits and two walks, struck out six and hit three batters across 99 pitches.

“There was no panic,” Cavalli said. “I felt very composed. But I’ve got to execute more; it comes down to that. You’ve got to execute pitches, and I didn’t do that tonight. I didn’t put my team in a position to win a ballgame. I’ve got to be better.”

Cavalli’s debut had been highly anticipated since he excelled in the Minors last year -- his first full season of pro ball since being drafted No. 22 overall by the Nationals in 2020. He was with the team late into Spring Training and was expected to make it to the bigs this year, but the club didn’t want to rush him until they felt he was ready to stay in the starting rotation.

“It was talked about for a while,” Cavalli said of his debut. “That’s something that’s very hard to ignore as a player because it’s popping up and your teammates and everyone’s talking about it. But the biggest mental challenge for me was being able to just stay present -- it was a blessing that I got to be able to do that mental exercise. Every single day, I had to wake up and just be like, ‘I’m going to be present here in Triple-A and get better so that if I do get the opportunity to get here, I want to make a statement.’ That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Following nearly two full seasons of accumulating Minor League accolades and tallying double-digit strikeouts, Cavalli earned the callup to start the series opener against the Reds after going 3-1 with a 1.47 ERA in his last seven starts with Rochester.

“It was very, very exciting,” Cavalli said. “I’ve been working my entire life. Whenever you get told that, it’s kind of like a shock at first. I was like, ‘Holy moly, this is really going on?’ … I was about to call my pops, and all that emotion just hit me and flooded me. I walked out the locker room and I just broke down.”

A key for Cavalli was putting those emotions out of mind and zoning in on the zone -- literally. He landed 57 of his 99 pitches for strikes and delivered a mix of 40 percent four-seam fastballs (maxed at 97.8 mph), 36 percent curveballs, 13 percent changeups, eight percent sliders and two percent sinkers. Cavalli worked through some issues gripping the ball as well.

“He repeated his mechanics really well, which was really nice,” manager Dave Martinez said. “That’s something that when he left Spring Training, we wanted him to do. We added the changeup and he worked on it, and his changeup will play here. I mean, it really will. He threw some good ones, so that to me is exciting. Moving forward, I’m actually really excited to see him go out and compete again in five days.”

Cavalli also made a strong impression on his first Major League opponent.

“He’s gonna be really good,” said Reds manager David Bell. “That’s an understatement. I know everybody here knows that. We were talking about that in the dugout -- you can tell he’s got the stuff to be here, and probably will be for a long time. Even being on the other side, it’s fun to watch somebody like that in their debut.

It would be understandable for Cavalli to think far down the road after reaching a monumental milestone. But for him, it is another stepping stone in a Major League career that is just beginning. 

“You’re working hard because this is your dream,” Cavalli said. “When you’re down there and you’re doing your job, you’ve just got to stay present and try not to think about that too much. … I’m honestly just glad that it happened. I had to get better and earn my way here.”