By Chico Harlan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
NEW YORK, May 25 -- In a break from what he's accustomed to, Daniel Cabrera came out of the bullpen on Monday night. In keeping with custom, he came nowhere near the strike zone. Making his first appearance as a reliever, Cabrera looked much the same as he did as a starter. And his first impression -- he recorded two outs, walked three and threw a wild pitch -- raised questions about how long he must wait to make a second impression.
"He didn't have command of his pitches," Nationals Manager Manny Acta said.
Ineffective as a starter, Cabrera, at least until Monday, had become a spare part. Before coming on in the seventh inning, he hadn't pitched since May 16 -- the start against Philadelphia that prompted the organization to send him to the bullpen. Because of the right-hander's limitations -- the team does not trust him in close games -- his first week in the bullpen, which coincided with six consecutive contests decided by three runs or less, gave him no chance to make a case for his value.
His first chance only hurt his case. He threw 25 pitches, 15 balls. He walked the bases loaded, and was bailed out only when Jason Bergmann came on to record the final out.
For the moment, the Nationals have an eight-man bullpen; Cabrera is its eighth member. But with two position players, Jesús Flores (right shoulder) and Elijah Dukes (left hamstring) beginning rehab assignments, Washington might not be able to maintain its overstuffed bullpen much longer.
"I believe with the guys coming off the DL we'll probably have to go back to seven," Acta said.
Cabrera's greatest value, at least in theory, comes as a starter. By early September, when several of Washington's rookie starters will presumably reach their innings-pitched limits for the season, the Nationals may need replacements in their rotation. But even that scenario requires Cabrera to redevelop his mid-90s velocity, something he didn't show in his eight starts (0-5, 5.95 ERA). The Nationals insist that Cabrera's $2.6 million salary won't prevent them from cutting ties midseason, if indeed that's the desired step.
In the meantime, Cabrera is not complaining. Asked Monday if he felt frustration about his marginalized role, Cabrera said, "I'm in the big leagues, man."
Said Acta: "I am concerned that he hasn't seen action, but we keep him at work in the bullpen whenever a day or two goes by that he doesn't get into the game. He throws a good bullpen side over there. The fact is, we need to put him into a situation where he can have success. I'm not going to bring him in in the ninth inning when we're tied right off the bat. We're waiting for a situation where he can come out, have a fresh inning, and the game is not late and tight. We have to do what's best for the team."