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O's Cabrera Is on the Move

With a Change-Up, He's Moved Up 2 Spots in the Rotation

By Jorge Arangure Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 30, 2005; Page D04

VERO BEACH, Fla., March 29 -- With his once-spindly legs turned into tree trunks and his sunken chest now stout, pitcher Daniel Cabrera, 23, has emerged as perhaps the Baltimore Orioles' most promising young player.

Cabrera made his final start of the spring Tuesday against the Los Angeles Dodgers, allowing just one earned run and two hits in five innings in a 4-3 win. He ended the spring with a 1.64 ERA, best among Baltimore's starting pitchers.

Daniel Cabrera
Daniel Cabrera
Daniel Cabrera, at 6 feet 7, added 20 pounds of muscle to power his already formidable fastball. (LM Otero - AP)

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"Every time I've seen him start I haven't really seen him fall flat on his face," catcher Sal Fasano said. "His demeanor is pretty good. His mound presence is pretty good. I think he has a chance to be pretty special in this league."

After beginning the spring as the fourth starter, Cabrera has leapfrogged Sidney Ponson and Erik Bedard into the number two spot. In the offseason, he gained 20 pounds, mostly muscle, which made his fastball -- which has hit 97 mph this spring -- more fierce.

"They ask me why I came in with 20 more pounds; it's because I'm eating better in the Dominican now," Cabrera joked. "Beside that, I've worked hard to put on muscle. Life changes a little bit, but it all depends on how you react to it. I try to focus on my work."

He also developed a change-up, although it has not been perfected.

"Sometimes he babies it a little bit, throws it a little too slow," Fasano said. "With a fastball as hard as he has, he doesn't need to throw a 70 mph change-up."

"This year they wanted me to come in throwing more change-ups," Cabrera said. "I worked hard on that. I had that in mind. The pitching coach has helped me a lot with that. I do whatever he tells me to do."

A year ago, Cabrera was an unknown, remarkable only for his height -- he stands 6 feet 7. After starting the regular season 9-5 with a 3.71 ERA, he finished 3-3 with a 9.00 ERA. Still, his 12-8 record and 5.00 ERA were enough to place him third in voting for the American League rookie of the year award.

"I came in this year the same way I came in last year, wanting to work hard," Cabrera said. "Obviously, this year I knew they were going to give me more of a chance. Last year in the spring I didn't start games. I was used as a reliever. This year they had a plan for me. I knew which days I was going to pitch. Last year I was part of the minors. This year I'm a major leaguer."

In one impressive at-bat Tuesday against the Dodgers, Cabrera started outfielder Milton Bradley with an 83 mph change-up. Bradley, looking for the powerful fastball, flailed at the off-speed pitch. Two pitches later, Cabrera struck out Bradley with a 95 mph fastball. Bradley simply stared at the catcher's glove. He had no time to swing.

Cabrera's first start of the season will be April 6 against Rich Harden of the Oakland Athletics at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Both are predicted to emerge this season; both have been handed their respective team's number two role. Cabrera said he's unfazed by such a lofty assignment.

"To me it doesn't matter," Cabrera said. "When the season starts, people won't know who pitches where. Everybody pitches every five days."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company