Orioles 4, Twins 1
The common perception was that Daniel Cabrera's young and talented right arm had weakened, exhausted from the strenuous pace of a long major league season that had tested his body unlike any other.
But Cabrera, still slinging 93 mph fastballs with regularity, argued that it was his head and heart that had faltered and not his arm.
The confidence that made him the Baltimore Orioles' most consistent starter in June had tumbled into diffidence, his swagger slipped into self-doubt. The 6-foot-7 frame that had intimidated from the mound suddenly appeared small.
But after a slump in August, Cabrera appears poised again in September.
Cabrera allowed just one run and three hits in 71/3 innings in the Orioles' 4-1 win against the Minnesota Twins at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Monday. In two starts in September, Cabrera has allowed one run in 132/3 innings.
"The same guy of a few months ago . . . he is back," Cabrera said. "I'm cocky again."
Pitching coach Ray Miller noticed Cabrera's struggles had caused him to speed up his delivery.
"I was going too fast, too accelerated," Cabrera said in Spanish.
Without much thought, Cabrera slung pitch after pitch, often with disastrous results. In August, Cabrera went 1-2 with a 11.51 ERA. The Orioles knew the most important adjustment would not come from a change in Cabrera's delivery but with a change in his mind-set. Cabrera said Miller urged the young right-hander to remain confident.
"When I'm confident, it's difficult to face me," Cabrera said.
Cabrera remained firm even though he walked Minnesota's leadoff batter in the first two innings. Stellar defensive plays by first baseman Jose Leon and right fielder B.J. Surhoff, who both cut down runners at home, saved Cabrera in the second. From there, Cabrera took control, allowing just two hits in the final 51/3 innings of his outing, earning his 11th win of the year.
The Orioles are still unsure of how Cabrera will fit into their future plans. He likely will start next season in the rotation, but with a role yet to be determined. Has he shown enough talent and poise to earn a spot in the top of the rotation, or does he figure to fight for a spot near the back of a rotation that likely will be reinforced through free agency?
"He fits in fine for next year," Manager Lee Mazzilli said. "He has to pitch the way he's been pitching."
Early in the game it appeared Cabrera's rediscovered confidence would not matter because the offense's lack of confidence against left-handed starters had kept it quiet through the first four innings. Entering Monday's game, the Orioles were 17-25 against left-handed starters this year, and they appeared headed toward another tough outing, though the lefty they faced was 41 years old, has played for 10 teams and throws a fastball that on a good day reaches 87 mph.
Terry Mulholland seemed unlikely to dominate, but he did until the Orioles scored two runs in the fifth with a one-out single by Melvin Mora. They added to their lead in the sixth with a two-run home run off Mulholland by Leon, who also had a double off the left field wall in the second.
Though Baltimore has won seven of eight games, the playoffs are clearly out of reach, and for that reason players such as Leon will get an extended look in September. Mazzilli said Leon, a 27-year-old infielder with no minor league options remaining, will get more starts in the final month.
"I think he could be a right-handed batter against left-handers that could help," Mazzilli said. "We've been looking for that."
Leon knows this is a time to prove himself.
"I have to take advantage of all the opportunities they give me," Leon said in Spanish. "It's difficult, but you have to make the best of it."
Orioles Notes: Left-hander Matt Riley was recalled from Class AAA Ottawa and will start Tuesday against the Twins. Riley was 1-3 with an 8.39 ERA in his prior stint with the club.
Riley's last stay with the club ended badly after the 25-year-old angered management by failing to arrive in Philadelphia a night prior to his July 2 start against the Phillies, even though the club had sent the pitcher home early while on a road trip in Kansas City. In that start against the Phillies, Riley allowed five runs in one inning and was sent down to Ottawa immediately after the game.
"I owed an apology to teammates and to my manager for the stunt I pulled," Riley said. "I think that's all washed clear now."
The Orioles also recalled outfielder Darnell McDonald and pitchers Rick Bauer and Aaron Rakers. Jerry Hairston was placed on the 60-day disabled list. . . .
Brian Roberts hit two doubles, pushing his season total to 45, only two behind Cal Ripken's 1983 single-season mark.