OU Sooners' Cavalli looking forward to his return

Oklahoma pitcher Cade Cavalli will start against rival Oklahoma State at 7 p.m. tonight at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.

NORMAN — Cade Cavalli wouldn’t mind if his recovery schedule were one day shorter. If so, he’d be slated to start for Oklahoma against rival Oklahoma State in downtown Tulsa, about 15 miles from where he grew up.

But he’s not complaining.

The former Bixby standout will make his first Bedlam pitching start Saturday in Oklahoma City against the Cowboys, after sitting out the past three with a stress reaction in his arm.

“I’m pumped for it,” Cavalli said. “It would have been nice to throw in Tulsa, but I’m ready to get back. I just want to throw in a game, you know? Saturday in Bricktown is gonna be live.”

He’s been anxious for this.

In the middle of a Friday start at Minnesota on April 19, Cavalli began feeling soreness and alerted the coaching staff. Instead of letting him play — “I could’ve thrown through it 100 percent,” he said — OU shut him down for an extended period.

Why? Cavalli’s potential Major League baseball career.

He’ll be draft eligible next year. He, coach Skip Johnson and team doctor Rob Fulton had many conversations about the best way to proceed.

Cavalli didn’t begin pitching until his sophomore year in high school, which factored into the decision. He doesn’t have the innings logged that other experienced pitchers do. This is his first season as a starter at the college level.

“That’s why we were so touchy,” Johnson said. “We said, ‘Hey, man. This is a deal you’ve never went through. Let’s go through this little process, see what it is.’

“You want to see if they can pitch through it a little bit, because there will be starts in the major leagues that, if he gets there, that he’s not gonna be feeling as good. Whether it’s his lower half being sore, his arm being sore, that he’s gotta try to grit through a game. Roger Clemens probably said it best. He got 200 wins with his stuff and got 170 with his grit, you know?”

Johnson wants the sophomore getting into routines like Clayton Kershaw, one of Johnson’s pupils, who takes 30 minutes to stretch his back before even playing catch. But Cavalli won’t get there if injured.

His rest has suited him well. Cavalli threw a “rhythmic” bullpen Wednesday, Johnson said, during which he touched 94 miles per hour on the radar gun. He’s expected to throw around 60 pitches Saturday.

OU wants him healthy for what it hopes becomes a postseason run. But the Sooners (30-18, 8-10 Big 12) are currently not projected to receive an NCAA at-large bid, according to D1baseball.com.

In addition to the regular Bedlam stakes — this weekend marks the 30th anniversary of the infamous 1989 brawl between the programs — OU’s series against the Cowboys could push the Sooners into, or out of, the NCAA postseason.

“[We’re] very aware of it. I mean, the kids are too, no doubt about that,” Johnson said. “You have to share that with them as much as anything because this is their team. They’re the only team that’s gonna be the 2019 Oklahoma Sooners.”

With that in mind, Cavalli’s return comes at the perfect time. With retooled mechanics since his days as a reliever in 2018, he’s 5-2 as a starter with a 3.10 earned-run average. He’s also hitting .319 with four home runs and sits on the John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year award.

His passion for being on the field is what made sitting out so hard.

“We want to win this season,” Cavalli said, “but they’re also looking out for my career and helping keep me smart about it. The competitor I am, I want to get out there and just go to war every weekend. It was hard for me to kind of let them shut me down, I guess.”