O's Cabrera in control of future

Near no-hitter shows promise of inconsistent, often-wild pitcher

September 30, 2006|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,Sun reporter

BOSTON -- After Daniel Cabrera's chance at history agonizingly came up two outs short Thursday night at Yankee Stadium, New York center fielder Johnny Damon spoke the words that Orioles fans have been waiting to hear.

"They've got an ace for the future," said Damon in a relieved Yankees clubhouse.

The Orioles have thought that of Cabrera, long before he took a no-hit bid into the ninth inning against the Yankees and watched his hopes get dashed by an opposite-field single from second baseman Robinson Cano.

The question is just how long the Orioles are willing to wait. Though club officials haven't publicly said it, Cabrera has tested the organization's patience this season. The 25-year-old right-hander leads the American League in walks (104) and wild pitches (17) and was sent to the minor leagues for about 3 1/2 weeks to work on both his command and confidence.

In parts of three seasons with the club, Cabrera has had outings nearly as dominant as the one he had in the Bronx on Thursday, but what he hasn't been able to do is follow them up with another great outing. That's why his latest outing was met with a cautious optimism.

The Orioles will now have to wait more than six months to gauge their pitcher's growth in a regular-season game. Though Orioles vice president Jim Duquette said that it would have been nice to see Cabrera's follow-up performance, he thought it was more important for the pitcher to end the season with a dominating effort.

"I think it is a good exclamation point to the end of the season," Duquette said. "You'd like to see a follow-up start to see if he can maintain it, but to end the season on the highest note you can, that to me, should give him plenty of confidence into the winter and heading into next season. To me, it couldn't have come at a better time."

Cabrera will finish the season with a 9-10 record and a 4.74 ERA. He allowed 130 hits in 148 innings. It is the lowest win total of his career, though the Orioles are fixating on his performance after the All-Star break, rather than before it.

Cabrera, 6 feet 7, walked at least five batters in 10 of his first 16 outings. He did it just once in his final 10 outings. Since the All-Star break, Cabrera averaged 4.92 walks per nine outings as opposed to 7.84 before it. Perhaps, most importantly, Cabrera has recognized that his walks are the problem, something he refused to do earlier this season.

"[Orioles pitching coach Leo Mazzone] tells me all the time, `The day you have plenty of confidence in all your stuff, you see that is going to be hard for some people to hit you,'" said Cabrera, who acknowledged that his trip to the minors was humbling. "You see sometimes I come in with all my stuff good and I don't [allow] too many base hits. When I walk people, that's when bad things start to happen."

What pleased club officials the most about Cabrera's outing was his composure and his confidence. The Orioles made three errors behind him, including one that led to a run, but each time, Cabrera got the next hitter out.

"You never feel real comfortable when you're hitting [against him] because he can be real wild," Damon said after Thursday's game. "He throws 98 miles per hour and has no control. Today, he kind of had it, he outguessed us and outplayed us. ... The crazy thing is I've actually seen him throw better at times."

When Cabrera returned from the minors, Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo felt that the pitcher was sacrificing too much of his velocity to just get the ball over the plate. But against the Yankees, his fastball was consistently in the mid-to-high 90s.

"When he got in trouble in the past, if he walked somebody or threw a ball, he might just take a little off just to get the ball over," Perlozzo said. "[Thursday], you didn't see any of that. He just powered the zone and kept his velocity the whole time."

The Orioles feel the key for Cabrera is getting him to think less about throwing strikes.

"That's what he has to do, eliminate the thought process because he has such a great sinker [and] fastball," first baseman Kevin Millar said. "He only needs his breaking ball about five or 10 times in a game. He's a guy that can dominate this league by throwing strikes."

Cabrera was still beaming when he arrived in the cramped visiting clubhouse at Fenway Park before last night's game. Waiting for him at his locker was a copy of the scorecard from the game signed by Mazzone, who also wrote on it, `You will have a no-hitter in your future.'"

"It feels great because Daniel is a hard-working kid," Mazzone said. "The whole time here, he hasn't missed any side sessions. His work ethic was good and he still has a changeup on the back burner that he doesn't trust yet. I am looking forward to watching the continuation of his development into a pitcher that can possibly dominate on a more consistent basis."

Cabrera said there were about 20 messages on his cell phone by the time he left Yankee Stadium. Asked whether he spoke to Cano, his childhood friend from the Dominican Republic, Cabrera said, "No, we're enemies now." And with that, his smile returned.

"It feels great," Cabrera said. "It was the last game of the season I pitched. To have that kind of game, it was exciting. I am going to go home happy."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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