Red Sox Chase, Catch And Pass O's Cabrera

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By Jorge Arangure Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 1, 2005

BOSTON, May 31 -- He glared into his locker, jaw clenched, while sitting slumped in a chair, stewing over a start that had begun well but ended like so many have in his young career. Daniel Cabrera is a kid thrust right into the middle of a pennant chase without one bit of experience to draw upon.

Baltimore pitching coach Ray Miller can alter Cabrera's delivery, quicken his windup to the plate, ask him to throw more off-speed pitches on occasion and then ask him to throw fewer when he begins to ignore the 96-mph fastball that has so many believing he is the next great Orioles ace. But Miller cannot age him, or speed up the learning process that comes naturally after games such as Tuesday's 5-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox.

"Nobody remembers this kid couldn't hit the batting cage four years ago in spring training," Miller said. "I get defensive when too many people try to help him. Daniel is certainly not a dumb kid. With a great young talent, you just can't put the cart before the horse. There are certain things you have to learn and certain things you have to experience. Every situation, like tonight, makes him that much of a better pitcher."

Miller also sat slumped after the game, with one hand holding a soft drink and the other holding a cigarette. It is the old coach's job to mold something out of a pitcher just 24 years old.

"If we'd have scored two runs early you would have seen something special," Miller said. "When he gets into jams, he tries to please everyone and tries to be perfect."

Cabrera remains Baltimore's biggest enigma, yet its biggest hope to challenge for a division title. Without Cabrera, Baltimore likely won't have enough starting pitching to contend.

"It's hard to believe that we're in a pennant race and we're still learning about Daniel Cabrera as a baseball player," catcher Sal Fasano said. "With experience comes command. You're not just born with command. As soon as he gets command down, he's going to be fine."

What made Cabrera particularly nasty early on Tuesday was his ability to mix in his 88-mph slider as a complement to his fastball. It was primarily with those two pitches that Cabrera dominated Boston through the first four innings. In one span, he retired 10 of 11 hitters and the only one who reached base got there on his throwing error. Somehow he lost complete control of the game in the fifth.

"I'm learning a lot from the whole season," Cabrera said. "I'm trying to be better. I'm not trying to be perfect. I'm just trying to make my pitches."

Until the fifth, Cabrera had not allowed a hit in the game. Mark Bellhorn's single up the middle with a man on first ended that stretch. He was one of four consecutive Red Sox hitters with a hit in that inning. After the inning, four runs had scored and Cabrera no longer appeared invincible. Baltimore's lead in the American League East dropped to three games.

"He's a confident kid," Orioles Manager Lee Mazzilli said. "He's got a lot of composure. He's got good poise, I've always felt. But he's a guy, at times, who can almost get by with one pitch, with the fastball he has that moves all over the place. But it's important, he's got to be more consistent with his breaking ball. He can be very dominant."

It was uncertain what each team would get from its starting pitcher. Boston starter Wade Miller was making just his fifth start since June 26. Miller missed most of last season with a strained right shoulder. He had pitched well in all but one of his starts, but it was his most recent start that had caused concern. In an 8-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays last week, Miller allowed seven runs in two innings. He appeared well on Tuesday though, allowing just one run in seven innings.

"I just felt more comfortable out there with my mechanics," Miller said. "I think this is the best I've felt since coming back."

Cabrera lost for the fourth time this season. It's not so much a guess of what he'll give each start, but how he'll perform from inning to inning. In the six starts in which Cabrera did not get a win, he has a 7.39 ERA.

The trick will be to get the best out of Cabrera for each start, and not just in moments. Baltimore is still trying to figure out how.


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© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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