Cabrera's dreary start dampens enthusiasm

June 26, 2006|By DAVID STEELE

Just when the news was starting to get good around the Orioles, especially in the pitching rotation, it got bad again, in a hurry. Well, not really a hurry - in 4 2/3 innings and 106 pitches, including four wild ones and another into Daryle Ward's shoulder.

They tell pitchers to work fast, but that did not go by fast.

Still, before that, there was optimism. For the first time in a week, hormones and pills and affidavits had been pushed to the back burner. So had "rivalry" talk, which was never too hot in the first place. Most of all, worries about the starters had receded.

The past four starts had not been all gems, but some were, and others were close. It took a rare closer meltdown and a fluky, flaky play out of The Bad News Bears to prevent the Orioles from taking a spirit-lifting, confidence-building four-game winning streak into yesterday's Nationals series finale. Erik Bedard, Kris Benson, Rodrigo Lopez, Adam Loewen - four positive outings in a row.

Even before the start of the series finale against the Nationals yesterday, more good news: The Orioles added Russ Ortiz, which isn't exactly like signing Johan Santana, but still leaves the impression that the Orioles were somewhere in the neighborhood of pitching-rich, at least in starters.

They could afford to send Loewen to Triple-A, although that wasn't a terribly popular move, particularly where Loewen dressed. They also could be patient and not even be tempted to rush Hayden Penn. They could make a low-risk, high-reward move with Ortiz, if pitching coach Leo Mazzone can have a happy reunion with his former Atlanta Braves starter.

The clouds even parted over Camden Yards, and the rain stopped.

Then, Daniel Cabrera took the mound.

And in rolled the clouds again.

"It certainly wasn't the start we were expecting out there," manager Sam Perlozzo said in the understatement of the month.

It was a poor performance not only from start to finish, but also after the finish, when he beat it out of the clubhouse before it was open to reporters. That reflects badly on his composure and maturity. But then again, so had everything else he had done on the mound.

Cabrera bounced pitches and made catcher Javy Lopez leap for others. He hit a batter and set a franchise single-game wild-pitch record. He played with fire in the first inning, got away with it, then got burned in the third and fifth. He exited to boos - from the Orioles' portion of the weather-shrunken crowd - after a Royce Clayton double cleared the bases.

So the Cabrera wait continues.

It's the most painful type of wait in the game, the organization waiting for the big kid with enormous stuff to figure out what he's doing out there. Teams have been paralyzed by the wait, including this one (Sidney Who?), and have gotten burned giving up too soon. Everybody has felt the agony of both sides.

But if the kid eventually gets it, and does it while still in your team's uniform, the payoff is so great, it's worth the agony. The Orioles are still in the agony stage.

Cabrera's first two starts after he returned from his shoulder problems early this month, were encouraging. The past three have not been, and that includes his previous outing before yesterday, making his starts a couple of gargoyle-like bookends to the mastery in between.

For four games, the starters not only kept the Orioles in games, but they've also sparked them to narrow victories in three of them, including the previous two against the Nationals by one run. Yesterday, the Orioles had no chance. The mini-surge of the late innings began when the hole was 8-1. Livan Hernandez - he's the one who kept his team in it.

"The starting pitching sets the tone of the game, usually," Perlozzo said. "Daniel seemed to be the right person to keep this thing going."

He still might be, maybe as early as his next start; that's how unpredictable he is. There's not even a hint of the Orioles taking the bait for Cabrera around baseball; expect Miguel Tejada, object of desire by the two Los Angeles teams, to go before Cabrera ever does. Same for any of the other starters, including (as colleague Peter Schmuck suggested in yesterday's Sun) Rodrigo Lopez.

The "what-if" factor is too great.

But things look better overall than they do when you just look at the disaster of yesterday. From Cabrera's last start until this one, the rotation looked great.

So far, whatever he has is not contagious. As his manager said, they were hoping for a lot more than that.

david.steele@baltsun.com

Read David Steele's blog at baltimoresun.com/steeleblog

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