Cabrera wild, Nats have ball

Team-record 4 wild pitches hurt O's

Nationals 9 Orioles 5

June 26, 2006|By JEFF ZREBIEC | JEFF ZREBIEC,SUN REPORTER

His counterpart, Livan Hernandez, threw fastballs consistently in the low to mid-80s, and Hernandez's off-speed stuff was clocked on the stadium radar gun as low as 61 mph. Daniel Cabrera, meanwhile, stood on the mound and was forced into rearing back and pumping fastball after fastball toward the plate.

And for most of the afternoon, Cabrera had no idea where that pitch was headed. The Orioles pitcher obviously hates talking about his wildness, and he avoided the topic yesterday, leaving the clubhouse before the media were allowed in. But after a start such as the one he delivered, the questions are inevitable.

In the Orioles' 9-5 loss to the Washington Nationals before 27,680 at Camden Yards, Cabrera set a club record with four wild pitches, to go along with five walks and a hit batter.

His pitch total had reached 106 when manager Sam Perlozzo removed him with two outs in the fifth inning. By then, the Orioles (35-42) trailed 5-1 and their chances of a three-game sweep of the Nationals had slipped from their grasp. They were forced to settle for a six-game split with the Nationals in the first regular-season games between the two cities since 1971.

"It certainly wasn't the start we were expecting out of him today," Perlozzo said. "The first two innings, I thought we were in business. He minimized his pitches and then got through the innings well. The next 2 2/3 , he kind of lost everything. He couldn't locate his fastball and couldn't get his breaking ball over. He struggled."

It started coming apart for Cabrera in the third inning, when Marlon Byrd, who led off the inning with a double, scored on Cabrera's first wild pitch. Daryle Ward then singled home Nick Johnson, who had also doubled, for a 2-0 Nationals lead.

Unable to throw his curveball for a strike and seemingly reluctant to use his changeup, Cabrera (4-5) had problems in the fifth that were self-induced. He loaded the bases on three walks. With two outs and the bases jammed, catcher Javy Lopez knew he needed to get ahead of the next hitter, Royce Clayton, so he called for a fastball.

Clayton was waiting for it and drove a liner into the right-center-field gap to clear the bases. Perlozzo walked briskly to the mound to take the ball from Cabrera, who left amid a chorus of boos. He allowed six earned runs for the second straight outing.

The 25-year-old right-hander also padded his American League-leading totals in walks (60) and wild pitches (13).

"We basically tried to call as many fastballs as we could to try to get ahead of hitters, but he still couldn't throw it for a strike," Lopez said. "He tries a lot. He tries to spot the ball so much. That's why he gets a little bit out of control. I try to tell him to just be relaxed, to think like there is nobody on base."

Orioles pitching coach Leo Mazzone wasn't sure what specifically caused Cabrera's problems yesterday, but he said the pitcher is "too hard on himself." Perlozzo said his fortunes will change when he starts spotting his breaking ball.

"That's two starts in a row he really didn't have his breaking ball," Perlozzo said. "He didn't have another pitch to get over the plate. Usually when you are throwing your fastball out of the zone, you have some other pitch to go to throw for a strike to get your fastball back in sync. He didn't."

The Nationals' Hernandez (6-8) had plenty of pitches to turn to. He entered the start with three straight losses and an 8.22 ERA in those games. In his previous start against the Boston Red Sox, he went just 1 2/3 innings, giving up six earned runs.

However, Hernandez, who has allowed more earned runs and hits than any other pitcher in the National League, has now beaten the Orioles twice this season. Yesterday, he worked his way through an Orioles lineup devoid of several of its mainstays.

Third baseman Melvin Mora (sore left knee) asked for and received the day off. Perlozzo also held out catcher Ramon Hernandez, who had the winning RBI in the Orioles' twice-delayed, 3-2 win on Saturday, and first baseman/designated hitter Kevin Millar. Ed Rogers started at third base, and Howie Clark was the DH. They went 0-for-6 but they weren't alone.

The Orioles, who did get a two-run, ninth-inning homer from Jeff Conine, managed three earned runs and six hits off the burly right-hander in six innings.

"He's not one of my favorite guys to face in the league," said Orioles center fielder Corey Patterson, who was 2-for-4 with two runs and an RBI. "It seems like he throws 10 different pitches. You never know what you are going to get at any point in the count. Velocity doesn't matter. I don't care if he is throwing 78 or 76 miles an hour. If you're locating your pitches, it doesn't matter how hard you are throwing."

The proof of that was on the mound for the Orioles. Cabrera hit 98 mph on the stadium radar gun several times yesterday. But that meant little to the Nationals (33-44), who mostly just watched Cabrera's pitches go out of the strike zone or to the backstop.

"Starting pitching sets the tone of the game, usually," Perlozzo said. "I really felt like Daniel was the right man today to keep this thing going, but he just couldn't rise to the occasion for us."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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