By Jorge Arangure Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 5, 2006
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., March 4 -- On an arid day in late January, Daniel Cabrera had just finished a workout at the Baltimore Orioles' training facility in the Dominican Republic when he was approached by someone with an interesting set of statistics.
A friend told Cabrera that the 37 pitches he threw in excess of 100 mph last season were more than anyone else in baseball. Reliever Kyle Farnsworth, now with the New York Yankees, was second with 14. Cabrera then was told that no other hurler threw more pitches in excess of 95 mph than his 1,015. For a moment, Cabrera rocked his head back and forth like a confident crow.
It had been a long workout for Cabrera inside Tetelo Vargas Stadium in San Pedro de Macoris. He had sprinted across the outfield grass on a sultry day in the Caribbean, and his head dripped with sweat. He panted for a few moments and leaned against the dugout wall. The statistics gave him some relief, as if he had been struck by a cool breeze, and a bit of a reward for having worked so hard on a day when most would have lounged on a beach. But he did not ponder the information he had received for too long.
In perhaps the most telling statement of Cabrera's progress as a pitcher, he played down the statistics, saying, "It won't matter how hard I throw if I can't master my change-up."
Saturday, on a windy afternoon, Cabrera had several reasons to be encouraged by his outing. It was just two perfect innings in the third spring training game, but Cabrera struck out two, walked none and, most importantly, mixed in his off-speed pitches.
"To me, the most important thing is to throw more strikes than the last two years," Cabrera said. "If you notice, hitters don't do well against me, but what causes me trouble are the walks. This year I want improve on that. If I could throw my fastball for a strike all the time, then it would be perfect. But sometimes I lose a little bit of my control on the fastball. I think I need to have two other pitches. I have the curveball, and I need the change-up for key moments."
It is not unfair to say that Baltimore's season may depend on whether Cabrera succeeds this season. In his third year in the majors, he is no longer a prospect but a mainstay in the rotation. There is reason to think he can have a breakout season. Pitchers Randy Johnson and Roy Halladay, both towering pitchers who battled with control problems because of their height, saw vast improvement in their third years in the majors.
"He has a chance to be real good," Orioles pitching coach Leo Mazzone said. "He'll end up with his future as a number one starter at one point in time."
Mazzone has taken special interest to ensure that Cabrera continues on a path to success. The two have worked together often, and Mazzone has told the pitcher to simplify his mechanics.
"Last year I tried five different types of mechanics and I was a young player in the league and whatever they told me to do, I did it," Cabrera said. "Those are things that won't happen anymore because I didn't have much success by doing that. This year, thankfully, Leo has me pitching at my comfort level."
After his outing Saturday, Cabrera sneaked back into the clubhouse and began to prepare for his trip to Orlando to meet up with the Dominican Republic's World Baseball Classic team.
In a sign that Cabrera has earned the respect of his countrymen, he will pitch March 10 against Australia.
"I don't know anything about them," Cabrera said of Australia. "And I hope they don't know anything about me."