Cade Cavalli takes 'surreal' step in Tommy John recovery

September 20th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Jessica Camerato’s Nationals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Right-hander took the field at Nationals Park on Tuesday afternoon. One year and three weeks earlier, he did so to make his Major League debut. This time, it was to play catch.

The moment carried a different, yet just as meaningful significance: it was an important milestone in his rehab from Tommy John surgery.

“I have been visualizing that moment since pretty much the time that I tore it,” Cavalli said. “Now that it's here, it was just very surreal. It felt great.”

Cavalli played catch for the first time since undergoing Tommy John surgery in March. He completed 25 throws at a distance of 45 feet while the Nationals staff looked on.

“It was really good; it’s progress," manager Dave Martinez said. “I talked to him afterwards, and those first couple of throws felt like he’d never thrown before, which we knew that would happen. But he's happy, we're happy that he's headed in the right direction.”

Cavalli, 25, had expected he would check this box at the Nationals training complex in West Palm Beach, Fla., where he has been rehabbing. The Nats wanted to watch his first session in person, so he rejoined the team at Nationals Park.

“We wanted to put eyes on him,” said Martinez. “We're going through our due diligence with him as far as his measurements, see[ing] where he's at, seeing the strength.” Cavalli, ranked as the Nationals' No. 4 prospect by MLB Pipeline, made one start last season before he was shut down because of right shoulder inflammation. He was poised to return to the starting rotation this season before he sustained the injury during a Spring Training game against the Mets.

“It did feel a little bit weird the first couple of throws trying to find that slot again, but once I found it and I felt comfortable in it, it was awesome,” Cavalli said. “I don't know how else to describe it other than ‘awesome.’”

Cavalli has been following his rehab plan with a disciplined approach. He is slated to have an off-day on Wednesday and play catch again on Thursday.

“You can't just come out of the gates firing, you’ve got to ease into it,” Cavalli said. “I trust our staff here, and they're going to hold me back, make sure that I'm at the right velocity throughout this progression.”

There is not a definitive return date, but the targeted time frame is June of 2024. Cavalli will continue his throwing program into the offseason, which he will spend between the Nats training complex and his hometown area of Tulsa, Okla.

“I think that something that will benefit me mentally is being able to take it day by day,” Cavalli said. “I know it sounds cliché, but I just feel like throughout a rehab process, that’s how you have to roll with it and focus on the goals each day. Being able to prepare the mind, the body [and] activate all the right muscles before you get going, those are little goals that make you win the day.”

Returning to Nationals Park to play catch emphasized what Cavalli has learned throughout his recovery process.

“I miss baseball a ton, that’s what I know,” he said. “Whenever I threw it, it was very emotional. … I knew how much I missed it, but when that ball came out, it was like, ‘Dang, I really, really miss this.’ It just gives you that fire to be able to get back and go compete at something you love.”