Red Sox Walk All Over Cabrera and the Orioles

Miguel Tejada dives for a ball that gets past him at Camden Yards. (Jamie Squire - Getty Images)
Miguel Tejada dives for a ball that gets past him at Camden Yards. (Jamie Squire - Getty Images)
By Jorge Arangure Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 8, 2006

BALTIMORE, April 7 -- It was too late to change anything by the time Orioles Manager Sam Perlozzo, his face taut with frustration, walked to the mound to deliver a stern lecture and quick hook. The 5-foot-9 Perlozzo spoke, and the 6-7 Daniel Cabrera listened. Perlozzo glared and Cabrera sullenly watched.

Cabrera's much-anticipated season debut fizzled from the start in Baltimore's 14-8 loss to the Boston Red Sox on Friday. It was almost a historic collapse by Cabrera, who in his 1 1/3 innings walked seven batters and allowed seven runs. Six of Cabrera's walks occurred in the first inning, when he could not find the strike zone and Perlozzo, pitching coach Leo Mazzone and catcher Ramon Hernandez pleaded with the pitcher to settle down.

He did not. Cabrera's six walks in the first fell two shy of the most by a pitcher in an inning, which was done by Bill Gray for Washington in 1909.

"I felt helpless out there but what could I do?" Cabrera said.

Of Cabrera's 60 pitches, only 22 were strikes, a woeful 37 percent. Four runs scored in the first inning and the only hit had been Coco Crisp's bunt single, which had trickled just a few feet past home plate and had started the dreadful rout.

Perhaps never before had the young Cabrera become so unhinged, so shaken by an outing. He stepped off the mound several times. He paused for extended periods before pitches. Hernandez set up on the outside corner and Cabrera's pitch landed low and inside. Hernandez set up down and away and Cabrera's pitch went over the head of Trot Nixon.

Cabrera noticed he had control problems while facing the Boston's second batter, Mark Loretta. For the rest of the outing Cabrera's fastball ran in on lefties and tailed outside on right-handed hitters, and there was nothing the pitcher could do about it.

"That's a problem I've had since I pitched against the Nationals on Saturday in the exhibition game," Cabrera said. "I don't know what's happening. I'll watch some video and try to find out."

Mercifully, Cabrera's outing ended in the second inning after allowing a double to Loretta, a single to Manny Ramirez and a walk to Nixon. It was then when Perlozzo walked out to lecture Cabrera. The manager did not appear agitated, but he was certainly frustrated.

"I was just telling him it wasn't the end of the world," Perlozzo said. "It was just one inning. It's a learning process for him."

A game that was supposed to test Baltimore's mettle in this young season was lost within the first 30 minutes. Cabrera did not leave the mound until Perlozzo made his point. Then Cabrera was allowed to leave. He walked slowly toward the dugout, hopping over the first base line as is his custom, and disappeared into the clubhouse.

It was a disheartening start for Cabrera, who is being counted upon to one day lead this staff, but as of now he appears no closer to being an ace than he was two years ago in his rookie season. On Friday he only led a wild staff that walked 14 batters and hit two others.

Certainly, Cabrera is talented, but he is painfully inconsistent and for all the nerve he shows at times, often with a brushback pitch, at other times he becomes unglued, clearly affected by mishaps on the field. After his disastrous first inning, Cabrera went into the clubhouse and yelled.

"More than anything he was upset," Perlozzo said. "When he gets in a jam he doesn't relax."

It is not confidence Cabrera lacks, but inconsistency. He is not lazy and remains a mystery. It may be that Cabrera is Mazzone's most ambitious project, and the new pitching coach may yet earn the approximately $450,000 he earns annually by simply uncorking whatever is bottled inside the statuesque pitcher.

The Orioles were stopped by Boston starter Matt Clement, who allowed four runs in seven innings but was masterful for the first six innings.

But it will be Cabrera's flop that matters most. He will pitch again on Wednesday against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and perhaps what Perlozzo told him in that lecture will help him then.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company