Cabrera stands tall

He tames Twins in bid to put smooth landing on roller coaster year

Orioles 7 Twins 3

Friday night's game

September 24, 2006|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,Sun Reporter

Daniel Cabrera has one more start left, one more chance to show the Orioles that he has progressed rather than regressed in what was supposed to be his breakthrough season.

There have been times this year when improvement and positives have been hard to find, lost among mounting walk totals and extended stretches of faulty control. Still, there are too many signs of hope for the Orioles to do anything but keep sending Cabrera to the mound and hope that he figures it all out.

Manager Sam Perlozzo feels that his 25-year-old pitcher is close to doing just that, citing the Orioles' 7-3 victory Friday night over the Minnesota Twins before 21,051 at Camden Yards as another example. In Cabrera's penultimate start, he didn't have his best stuff, but he made pitches when he needed to, holding the Twins to three earned runs and five hits over 6 2/3 innings.

With just two more home games remaining, the Orioles (68-76) won for the fifth time in six games, dropping the Twins 1 1/2 games behind Detroit in the American League Central.

"I think he's improved," Perlozzo said of Cabrera. "Has he turned the corner? I think he's got a good lead on turning the corner. I don't think he's quite there yet, but he's getting closer all the time. It's just maturing. That's just a young kid. He had a problem with the walks early on and I think that still stays in his mind, but I think he's slowly overcoming that. He's throwing the ball over the plate a little more often."

Despite spending 6 1/2 weeks on the disabled list and back in the minor leagues to work out control problems and to gain some confidence, Cabrera still leads the AL in walks with his three yesterday giving him 102 for the season. He also had two wild pitches Friday night, giving him a major league-high 17.

Cabrera, however, appears to be at least learning the importance of throwing strikes. Before the All-Star break, when he was allowing 7.84 walks per nine innings, Cabrera would grow agitated at the mere mention of walks. "I've walked people all my life," he said in jest on one occasion.

But somewhere along the line - perhaps during a humbling stint in Triple-A Ottawa - he grew less accepting of handing out free passes. Since the All-Star break, he is allowing 4.91 walks per nine innings. After his start Friday night, which improved his record to 8-10, Cabrera acknowledged that he needs to lower his walk total even more to get where he wants to be.

"I deal with the same problem, the walking people," he said. "But I try to take all the positive things that happen this year and bring them into next year. I'll try to do a better job than I did this year. ... [This is] my bad year."

Friday night, however, was not his bad night. He retired 10 straight Twins at one point during the middle innings, striking out four during that stretch.

"We went into the game knowing he had 99 walks so we kind of took the first pitch and tried to work him," Minnesota center fielder Torii Hunter said. "That didn't work. He had the strike zone down."

Cabrera appeared to tire in the seventh inning, issuing a leadoff walk to Justin Morneau, followed two batters later by an RBI single to Rondell White that cut the Orioles' lead to 5-2.

He then was removed to a partial standing ovation. Perlozzo gave the ball to lefty Brian Burres, who gave up a run-scoring single to Twins leadoff man Luis Castillo before getting Nick Punto to ground out, stranding men on second and third.

Burres stayed on for the eighth and retired the side, including Joe Mauer, the AL's leading hitter who went 1-for-4, and Morneau, an MVP candidate whom Burres struck out on three pitches. Leading 5-3, the Orioles then tacked on two insurance runs in the eighth, making for a stress-free ninth for closer Chris Ray.

"We've definitely been pretty good at that," second baseman Brian Roberts said when asked if it was nice that the team isn't falling apart late in the season. "What is great is to see our young pitchers continue to get better. Cabrera threw the ball great, [Erik] Bedard has been awesome, [Adam] Loewen's continued to get better and better. Those are great signs for us."

Roberts scored the first run on Jay Gibbons' first-inning single off Carlos Silva (10-14) and then drove in the next two as part of the Orioles' three-run second. Roberts hit a two-run homer, his 10th of the season, to give the Orioles a 3-1 lead.

Facing a pitcher who he touched for three home runs a month earlier, rookie Nick Markakis, whose recent slump prompted Perlozzo to give him a pep talk before Friday night's game, had an RBI double in that inning to make it 4-1.

The top five guys in the Orioles' order - Roberts, Melvin Mora, Markakis, Miguel Tejada and Gibbons - were 12-for-24 with seven RBIs and four runs.

Tejada was 3-for-5, and notched his 205th hit, setting a career high. He is just seven hits away from breaking Cal Ripken's franchise single-season record of 211 hits, achieved in 1983.

"It's not easy to do, to break the record," Tejada said. "I'd be happy to do it. It's Cal's record. I look forward [if] I can break his record. I just don't like to make outs. That's why I try to get as many hits as I can."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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