PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- A line of cars followed each other from West Palm Beach to Port St. Lucie. When they pulled up to a red light, the drivers rolled down the window and began waving to each other. Friends saying hello? Sure. Top pitching prospects expressing their excitement to make their Spring Training debuts? That too.
“We’re just going to have fun and enjoy it,” Cavalli said of their mindset during the drive. “We for sure talked about it. There were nerves going into it for everyone. But it was like, ‘Alright, we’re here! Let’s do it!’ It was fun and loose. That’s how we keep it around here.”
See how these Nationals top prospects performed in their first outings.
RHP Cade Cavalli: 1.0 IP, 1 walk, 2 strikeouts
Cavalli was the first of the group to take the mound, pitching in the second behind starter Kyle Finnegan. He found himself in a pinch with runners on second and third after he walked James McCann and allowed Luis Guillorme to reach on a throwing error. Cavalli buckled down to strike out Khalil Lee and Drew Ferguson swinging to end the inning.
“He was very poised,” manager Dave Martinez said. “There was no panic. He did go to his secondary pitches, which is kind of nice to see. The good thing is that he had a veteran catcher in Yan [Gomes] that could help him out a little bit, and he looked really, really good.”
Said Cavalli, “I took a look around -- I’m in a Nats uniform in a big league game. That’s what I’ve dreamed of since I was a kid. Yeah, it’s an exhibition. But I’m going to go out there and compete like it’s not. It’s Game 7 to me every time.”
RHP Jackson Rutledge: 1.0 IP, 1 hit, 2 strikeouts
After Rutledge allowed a single to left field against Brandon Nimmo, the first batter he faced, he quickly rebounded. He picked off Nimmo at first and fanned Jeff McNeil and Dominic Smith to quickly wrap up the inning.
“He tries to work extremely fast, he really does,” Martinez said. “He’s a guy that gets the ball and goes. Sometimes you’ve got to slow things down a little bit and catch your breath. He seemed to do that there. I liked what I saw out of him. He threw strikes, he threw strikes with secondary pitches, so it was really good.”
Said Rutledge, “I think the big thing was that I can do it, that I can go out there and be confident and be under control and get guys out. I don't need to go out and try to be something that I'm not -- try to throw too hard, try to hit a corner too much, but really just be confident in my stuff and know that I can get really good hitters out.”
RHP Cole Henry: 1.0 IP, 2 hits, 1 home run (grand slam), 4 runs, 1 walk, 1 strikeout
With one out in the fifth, Henry loaded the bases on a single by Ferguson, a walk to Nimmo and hitting McNeil with a pitch. He got Smith out on a foul tip, but Pete Alonso did damage sending a fastball into right-center field for a grand slam. After the inning, Henry took it in stride, telling Martinez that he didn’t just get his feet wet, he got them soaked.
“He was really good after the game,” Martinez said. “He kind of made a joke, and he knows he’s here to get better. Some time along the line, he’s going to help us in our division, in our league.”
LHP Matt Cronin: 0.2 IP, 1 run, 3 walks, 1 strikeout
Cronin, the Nats' No. 8 prospect, previously struck out two on Monday and returned to the mound on Thursday. He faced five batters in the eighth inning as the Mets had taken a 7-4 lead. He began the outing by walking Mark Vientos, retired the next two hitters and walked Johneshwy Fargas and Mallex Smith to load the bases. Martinez then made a call to the ‘pen for Todd Peterson.
“He wears a lot of his emotions on his sleeve,” Martinez said. “I told him, ‘Hey, we’ve got to hone in on your energy.’ He’s a guy that pitches with a lot of energy, so we’ve got to kind of bottle that energy and use it to his advantage.
"We talked for a little bit, and I told him, ‘You’re going to get back out there and I want you to slow everything down. Just remember, the biggest thing for you is you’ve got the stuff, you've just got to throw strike one and get ahead of hitters. You’ll be surprised at what will happen.'”
Now that the prospects have made their Spring Training debuts, the Nationals will continue to get them stretched out for the season.
“I like all these guys,” Martinez said. “These are guys that eventually are going to help us in the big leagues. They’ve got great stuff. Now we’ve got to get them honed in and get them perfected on what they want to do and what kind of pitchers they want to be and get them to throw strikes.”