Nationals Notebook

Nats' Cabrera Is Looking to Find His Stride

Newly acquired Nats pitcher Daniel Cabrera got himself in and out of trouble against his former team -- the Orioles -- in yesterday's spring training game.
Newly acquired Nats pitcher Daniel Cabrera got himself in and out of trouble against his former team -- the Orioles -- in yesterday's spring training game. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
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By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 7, 2009

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., March 6 -- At certain moments, Daniel Cabrera looked great pitching against his former team. Other times, Cabrera didn't. Six feet nine inches of unrealized potential and enormous promise, Cabrera offered his usual tantalizing and maddening mix Friday during the Washington Nationals' 6-2 spring training loss to the Baltimore Orioles.

Cabrera's performance in his second start showed why Nationals Manager Manny Acta already has him slotted in the starting rotation even while urging pitching coach Randy St. Claire to fix his delivery.

Acta appreciates the good he sees in Cabrera. He just wants more of it.

Cabrera gave up one run, four hits and two walks in two innings in his first appearance against the team that released him in December after five up-and-down seasons.

"It feels weird to play for so long for one team, and now you're on the other side," Cabrera said. "I was a little wild in the first inning, but I feel good."

Cabrera escaped a bases-loaded jam with a strikeout and flyout in the first inning. But he got in the jam with back-to-back walks, back-to-back singles and two stolen bases.

In the second inning, he struck out Orioles slugger Nick Markakis with two outs and two men on, but more damage could have been done if not for the second diving catch by left fielder Roger Bernadina.

Scheduled to pitch three innings, Cabrera went only two because he reached his pitch count -- about 50, Acta said -- earlier than expected. And desired.

"He lost his release point a couple of times," Acta said. "But you know what? When you have [good] stuff, you can get out of innings like he did."

Before the game, Acta pointed to a host of reasons to be optimistic Cabrera, 27, will finally escape his problems with the Nationals: He is getting out of the American League East, escaping designated hitters and landing at a home stadium with a spacious outfield. But the biggest might be the work Cabrera is doing on his stride.

The Nationals don't believe Cabrera's infamous struggles (he had a 5.25 ERA last year) have a thing to do with his head. They have found physical flaws.

The first time Cabrera stepped on the mound for a bullpen session this spring, Acta said, Nationals coaches noticed that he appeared to be under-striding. This troubled St. Claire for two reasons: Too short of a stride can leave a pitcher, especially a big guy like Cabrera, off-balance. Even worse, it cuts hitters a break, giving them more time to react.

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