Cabrera has classic case of dual loyalties

February 24, 2006|By JEFF ZREBIEC | JEFF ZREBIEC,SUN REPORTER

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- On the outside of Daniel Cabrera's glove is a small, sewn-in replica of the Dominican flag. The Orioles' starting pitcher called a representative from Rawlings this offseason and asked that his glove include the flag so that he can pay tribute to his native country.

Cabrera is looking forward to representing the Dominican Republic in next month's World Baseball Classic, as long as it's OK with his employer.

"I want to go, because you don't have too many chances to represent your country in a big game, so I would be happy to be there," Cabrera said. "But my big worries are in here, for the Oriole guys. If they don't want me to go, I won't go. I am happy to be going there, but whatever the Orioles say, that's what I am going to do."

The Orioles have made a formal request asking the governing body of the tournament to reconsider the number of their players who are scheduled to participate. Privately, at least one member of the organization has said that Cabrera would benefit from staying around Fort Lauderdale.

However, the Orioles aren't allowed to ask for a specific player to be released from a Classic roster. The Orioles, who could have as many as 12 players away at the inaugural event and four-fifths of their starting rotation, still haven't gotten an answer on their request for leniency, though they could hear something in the next few days.

"I am a supporter of the event," said Orioles vice president Jim Duquette. "I just worry about the health of the players. We're one of the teams being hit the hardest with this, specifically with our starters. Because of the risk factor, we've asked for relief. We want to field some sort of recognizable team in the spring as well."

Cabrera is the most logical choice to stay around. The Orioles' other Classic-bound starters - Rodrigo Lopez, Bruce Chen and Erik Bedard - will essentially be the aces on their country's staff, while the Dominican Republic counts 2005 American League Cy Young winner Bartolo Colon on its staff as well as several other quality pitchers.

Cabrera, who will turn 25 in May, has impressed Orioles officials this spring as he readies for his third major league season. He went 10-13 with a 4.52 ERA in 2005 and several pundits have predicted that the addition of pitching coach Leo Mazzone will result in a breakout season. But if the Dominican Republic fares well in the tournament, Mazzone will have limited contact with Cabrera for as long as a month.

Mazzone was in the Orioles' suite in Dallas at December's baseball winter meetings when executive after executive came in and inquired if Cabrera was available. The answer, of course, was no and in watching him for nearly 10 days now, Mazzone knows why.

"I don't blame them for asking about him. I would have, too," said Mazzone. "He has a great arm, a great attitude and he should become a force in some period of time."

Cabrera, who was 6 feet 7, 251 pounds at this time last season, has added some upper-body strength and two club officials say he has also grown 2 inches since last spring, though results of last week's physicals are not yet available.

He has spent considerable time the past week and a half consulting with Mazzone, who has encouraged him to take a little off his fastball, which consistently reaches the mid-90s, to locate it better. Mazzone also has instructed Cabrera to throw more four-seam fastballs.

"This guy is special," Cabrera said of Mazzone. "He gives us a lot of confidence. Whatever Leo tells me to do, that's what I am going to do. He has had too many good pitchers before me. He says throw that, that's what I am going to throw."

In his first day as an Oriole, former Red Sox player Kevin Millar, who criticized the starter last year after he came inside on several Boston hitters during a spring training game, sought out Cabrera and told him how much the Red Sox hated facing him.

"There is no pitcher with better stuff than Daniel Cabrera," he said. "This guy throws 93 to 99 [mph] with movement on his fastball the entire game. He's a 6-foot-7, 6-foot-8 kid who is as strong as they come. He's got to understand that he's got to make people fear facing him. He has to believe he is the baddest man on earth.

"He's our ace in the hole. He can go 20-3 if he wanted to depending on luck and our offense. That's how good he is."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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