New approach, unsure destination

Results of Orioles starter Cabrera's transition from 'throwing' to 'pitching' still up in air

June 03, 2007|By JEFF ZREBIEC | JEFF ZREBIEC,Sun Reporter

ANAHEIM , CALIF. // The change has been obvious. It is Daniel Cabrera's results that have been inconclusive.

In Cabrera's first three seasons with the Orioles, he was known for being more of a thrower than a pitcher. When he got into trouble -- and he often did -- he responded by rearing back and throwing harder. He dominated hitters at times with a fastball that he threw in the high 90s, but confounded the organization with his lapses of command and composure.

Just last season, Cabrera led the American League with 104 walks despite spending 6? weeks on the disabled list or in the minor leagues. But in Friday night's 3-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels, Cabrera once again showed that he has become a different pitcher. He was in trouble throughout the game but held things together until the seventh inning when a bases-loaded, two-run single by Gary Matthews Jr. led to the loss.

He was able to do so by taking a little off his fastball and allowing Angels hitters to put the ball into play, rather than simply relying on a strikeout. He also went to his curveball several times as his strikeout pitch.

"When you see 99 or 100 [miles per hour] or what I throw before, I think it's hard to control," Cabrera said. "It's not like I've tried to slow down myself. But it has happened because I try to make a pitch, not just throwthe ball. I am pitching more. I've had success with that. I can get later in the game with that and I can get hitters to think about other pitches. If I try, I can hit 98, maybe 99. But it's not like I really need it right now. It's better for me to throw 95 with good location than 99 in the middle."

Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo agrees and thinks that as Cabrera gets more confident in his ability to throw strikes, he'll increase his velocity. The 26-year-old righthander has been using a moving two-seam fastball, which he throws at about 91 or 92 mph, a lot more this season. In the past, he favored a harder four-seam fastball, a pitch that he can throw in the high 90s.

"In the long scheme of things, I think Daniel is dominating when he gets up to his velocity that you're used to seeing," Perlozzo said. "I don't know if he mentally thinks about walking people or not. He wants to throw strikes and he should want to throw strikes. If he feels more comfortable right now with some movement and less velocity and he has some success, I think themore he can do that, the more he'll get back to his velocity."

The result of Cabrera's new approach has been fewer walks, but more hits and a slightly higher ERA, though he is getting deeper into games. In his first 12 starts last season, Cabrera was 4-4 with a 4.64 ERA. In 64 innings, he had allowed 54 hits, 55 walks and five home runs,while striking out 72.

In his first 12 starts this year, Cabrera is 4-6 with a 4.72 ERA. In 76 1/3 innings, he has surrendered 72 hits, 37 walks and eight home runs, while striking out 62. Even though Cabrera hasn't fared much better with the new approach, he feels he is in better position to help the Orioles.

"I try to get ahead in the count early," he said. "I know if I get ahead in the count, I have a better chance to get the guy out. That?s what I am working really hard on."

In the first inning Friday, Cabrera used his curveball to get out of a bases-loaded jam by striking out Casey Kotchman and Howie Kendrick. In the second, he took something off his fastball -- he was throwing it in the low to mid 90s -- and got ReggieWillits to hit into an inning-ending double play with men on first and third. It happened again in the fifth as Cabrera forced Matthews to hit into a double play with the bases loaded.

"He's not a guy that we expect him to throw 100 or throw 99 [anymore]," said shortstop Miguel Tejada, who had given the Orioles the lead that Cabrera was trying to protect with a first-inning, tworun homer off Angels ace John Lackey. "He's learning more how to pitch. Before, he made a little trouble and didn't know what to do. But know he gets in trouble and he knows how to get out of it.

He's pitching more. He knows what to do. You can see how he moves the ball around

"He lost that game, but he has to be proud [of] how he handled that team until that inning. It was a great game. He pitched against one of the best pitchers in the league in Lackey and against one of the best teams in the league. We're all proud. If you play a game like this against a team like the Angels, you have to proud."

Cabrera appreciated Tejada's compliment, but took no solace because his ability to escape trouble didn't result in a victory.

"I didn't win today," he said. "I can't feel good. I can't feel comfortable about that."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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