Rochester Red Wings Report: Can’t Win Them All

During the 2022 season, I’ll have occasional reports on games I’ve attended of the Rochester Red Wings, the AAA affiliate of the Washington Nationals.

For two batters on Tuesday night, it appeared that the Rochester Red Wings were going to win their 10th straight game and further solidify their place at the top of the IL East and one of the bright spots for the Washington Nationals organization. For two batters on Tuesday night, Cade Cavalli was the best pitcher in the minors.

Alas, the game did not end after two batters. After striking out Matt Vierling and Austin Wynns in quick succession to begin the game, it all fell apart. While Cavalli maintained the high speeds that have made him the Nationals’ best pitching prospect, the control left him and the Lehigh Valley IronPigs (Phillies) found themselves able to sit on the pitches he was able to get in the zone. Four hits, two walks, and eventually five earned runs later, and the Wings found themselves down 5-0 after the first inning, with Cavalli only going 0.2 on the day as his ERA increased to 7.62.

It was undoubtedly a disheartening display for prospect-watchers. Cavalli has yo-yo’d a bit in quality this season. At times, such as a 5.1 IP no-hit performance in late April, he has been every bit the future MLB fireballer that Nationals fans are hoping for. On other nights, such as Tuesday, he has been a messy pitcher who calls to mind Nuke Laloosh early in Bull Durham, with plenty of pure talent but none of the refinement needed to make it to the show. Whether he settles into one or the other as far as results is one of the things that Nationals fans and Red Wings fans most want to know.

While the Wings lineup was able to make it something of a game again later, the deficit was just far too great to truly make it competitive, as they fell 11-5. Outside of two good two-inning stints by Jace Fry and Andres Machado, the pitching just couldn’t hold off the IronPigs enough to allow for another comeback.

Luis Garcia, who remains by far the position player on the Wings most likely to become a mainstay in Washington, also had a rough game, going 0-3 and leaving four on base before being pulled later in the game. While the hitless game wasn’t entirely his fault (Lehigh’s Vierling made a nice diving catch to rob him in the first), the same couldn’t be said for his fielding. Often mentioned as his weakest tool and one reason why he hasn’t become a permanent fixture in the bigs yet, Garcia sadly lived down to that complaint on Tuesday, committing his fifth error of the season while also showing a lack of range at shortstop. On a few occasions, there were balls hit up the middle that a top-level shortstop may have been able to make a play on, but Garcia wasn’t able to. Some (but not all) of these may have been because of shifts in play, but it was still concerning. Shifts or no shifts, though, it is pretty concerning. While hardly something that justifies him staying in the minors (after all, Derek Jeter was infamous for his inability to get to balls hit to his left), it does show some of why the Nationals are concerned about his play in the field.

In some ways, the loss on Tuesday was inevitable. The Wings had been soaring this month, but there had been some big caveats. As I mentioned in my previous article, they’d been playing teams under .500 (with Tuesday’s loss they actually have a losing record against teams with winning records). What’s more, some of those wins during their now-ended nine-game winning streak were perilous, involving comebacks and at times shaky play that forced the Wings to win narrowly. It also felt a bit too good to be true for Rochester sports. Last week, the weather was beautiful (so, of course, the Wings were on the road) and the local hockey team, the Amerks, were storming to wins in the playoffs. Between the Wings win streak and the Amerks’ success on the rink, good vibes were at a high for Rochester sports. On Tuesday, though, the weather was cold and bitter, so perhaps it wasn’t surprising that the Wings lost and the Amerks lost on the same night.

However, the ultimate reason is the probably the simplest. The thing you say after any loss:

“You can’t win them all.”

The Red Wings continue their series with Lehigh Valley for the rest of the week.

Rochester Red Wings Report: Four good innings of Cade Cavalli

During the 2022 season, I’ll have occasional reports on games I’ve attended of the Rochester Red Wings, the AAA affiliate of the Washington Nationals.

Cade Cavalli is the top pitching prospect of the Washington Nationals. Some lists have him as top prospect for the Nationals overall. For four innings on Thursday, he showed why. Working in the high 90s with off-speeds in the 80s, Cavalli struck out seven Buffalo Bisons while walking only one and giving up an earned run on four hits.

That Cavalli would rack up K’s (including three in the 3rd) isn’t surprising. He led the Minors in 2021 with 175 across three different levels while also being chosen for the Futures Game. However, he has struggled in AAA and didn’t have a good spring with the Nationals this year, including one game where he gave up 10 earned runs to the Cardinals.

The Cavalli of the first four innings on Thursday appeared to have put that behind him. The problem for Cavalli, though, is that he didn’t stop pitching in the 4th inning. He also came out in the 5th. There, the Bisons jumped on him for four straight hits. He was taken from the game after 82 pitches. A few batters later, Samad Taylor hit a grand slam off Jace Fry to put Buffalo up for good. Cavalli’s final line: 4+ IP, 8 H, 5 ER, 1 BB, 7 SO, season ERA after two starts: 9.00. The final score would ultimately be 10-1 Buffalo as the Wings fell to .500 on the year.

Despite how the game ended, however, Thursday spoke well of Cavalli and his future. He’s only had a small sample size of two starts this year, but his strikeout-to-walk ratio has improved (last season across three levels: 2.92 strikeouts for every walk, this season so far: 5.50 strikeouts for every walk). Plus, he certainly seemed more comfortable and less “raw” on the mound, although admittedly that is an intangible thing that is in the eye of the beholder. Doubtless he and the Nationals are hoping that he’ll be MLB-ready by mid-year. Until then, though, he’ll be in Rochester.

The Red Wings continue their series with Buffalo through the weekend.