For Cabrera, the Picture Clears Up

Daniel Cabrera
With his vision corrected, Daniel Cabrera looks to focus on reaching his full potential. (Rick Bowmer - AP)
By Jorge Arangure Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 17, 2007

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., Feb. 16 -- Pity the opposing hitter who had to step into the batter's box the past two seasons to face the giant with the radar-popping fastball. Bad enough to have only a wooden bat for protection against Daniel Cabrera, the Baltimore Orioles' 6-foot-7, 260-pound fireballer. What if those hitters had known that those 100 mph fastballs were being thrown by a man who couldn't see clearly?

"The talk around baseball is most players hated to face him," Manager Sam Perlozzo said. "We want that to be because he starts to get people out on a regular basis and pitching the way he's capable of."

For the first time in his major league career, Cabrera, 25, can see clearly -- and that is not a metaphor for his growing ability to manage the strike zone. Four days after the end of the 2006 season, Cabrera had vision correction surgery. Now that the strike zone is in focus, the question becomes whether Cabrera -- who had 104 walks and 157 strikeouts last season -- can find it.

"I can see everything more clearly and more vividly," said Cabrera, who was 9-10 with a 4.74 ERA last season. "I thought I used to see well, but it's not like now. Now everything is so clear."

Last spring, Cabrera's doctor advised him to wear glasses, but he resisted because the frames felt uncomfortable, especially when he perspired. Surgery was the best option, but since the problem had been diagnosed so late, it would cause him to miss part of the season. So Cabrera decided to pitch without surgery, and without glasses.

Now he admits that wasn't a good idea. Cabrera started the season in a slump and struggling with his control problems. He walked nine batters and struck out 10 in five innings in an April game against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and finished the season with 17 wild pitches. He went on the disabled list in May with shoulder tightness and spent six days in the minors on a rehabilitation assignment.

Upon Cabrera's return from the minors in June, Orioles Executive Vice President Mike Flanagan noticed that Cabrera sometimes flinched at foul balls, perhaps because he was uncertain where they were headed. Cabrera had an eye test, which confirmed Flanagan's suspicions.

"It was a pretty large deficit," Flanagan said of Cabrera's vision problems. "It was enough to be a concern."

Orioles coaches then set about trying to persuade Cabrera to wear goggles. Again Cabrera resisted. After a 25-day stint in the minors in late July and early August, pitching coach Leo Mazzone suggested Cabrera use the goggles during bullpen sessions. Eventually he relented and used the glasses during practice, then for the final three weeks of September, he wore them in games.

"Before I tried using the glasses and got accustomed to them, I didn't think I had a problem with my vision," he said. "When I did use the glasses I noticed that I did need them. I had a better reaction and could concentrate on spotting my pitches. Really it's worked well."

It was then that Cabrera not only noticed that he saw better, but that also batters were more intimidated.

"Actually after I started using glasses, hitters didn't appear to want to step into the box against me," Cabrera said.

Said Flanagan jokingly, "With the glasses we were going to try to accentuate his vision problem."

Wearing those glasses, Cabrera had perhaps the best game of the year, a one-hit masterpiece against the New York Yankees in his final start of the season. Cabrera's no-hitter was broken up with one out in the ninth inning by Robinson Cano.

"That last game it was a blessing for me, showing perhaps what type of potential I have when I'm control and am confident in my abilities," Cabrera said. "It was a way to finish strong and give me more strength heading into the offseason."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company