This was the season when many expected Daniel Cabrera to go from tantalizing talent to ace starter, but instead, Cabrera's spotty control and waning confidence became growing concerns to the Orioles, and the club optioned him to Triple-A Ottawa yesterday in hopes that he will rediscover his dominating form.
Team officials said the move was more about repairing Cabrera's mind and mechanics than addressing the club's flaws.
"We felt like Daniel was going a little backwards on us," manager Sam Perlozzo said. "Mentally, the game was getting to him a little bit, and we need him. We need this guy, so we'd like to get him in a situation where he can relax a little bit, go back to basics, work on his breaking ball and changeup and command of his fastball."
Adam Loewen will replace Cabrera in the rotation after dominating in three starts at Ottawa. The Orioles also optioned reliever Sendy Rleal (1-1, 4.50 ERA) to Ottawa and recalled Eddy Rodriguez to replace him.
Perlozzo said Cabrera, 25, was despondent after learning of the demotion. He had seemed similarly dejected after allowing four runs, six hits and five walks in 5 1/3 innings the night before against the Texas Rangers. He left without speaking to reporters yesterday.
"It did seem last night more than any other time prior to this, he just didn't seem to be able to figure out how to get out of certain jams and situations he was in," vice president Jim Duquette said. "You could clearly sense some frustration after the ballgame and through his comments in the paper."
Veteran teammates huddled around Cabrera in the clubhouse after he received the news.
"I just told him to go down and work on your stuff and get back in your line," catcher Ramon Hernandez said. "Have a couple good starts, get everything in place and you'll be back."
Hernandez said Cabrera's stuff seemed fine in recent weeks but that he had trouble escaping from difficult innings in each start. He was disappointed to see the young pitcher sent down.
"He's a guy with great stuff. He could be the No. 1 starter on a lot of teams," Hernandez said. "But you just need to get your head straight. Here in the big leagues, it's more mentality. Everybody has the talent."
Perlozzo was worried about Cabrera's confidence. He watched his starter lose velocity as he tried to compensate for early walks by placing the ball instead of throwing it naturally.
"What happens mentally affects his physical delivery," the manager said.
Perlozzo hopes Cabrera will dominate for a few starts and return quickly. He dismissed concerns that the move would further splinter the pitcher's confidence.
"I can't imagine his confidence going backwards at Triple-A with the stuff he has," he said. "I fully expect him to step on the hill and be relaxed and pitch exactly how we want him to pitch."
The idea of a demotion for Cabrera would've shocked many baseball observers in the preseason. Some even touted him as a dark-horse Cy Young Award candidate after he struck out seven and allowed no hits in four innings against Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic.
His physical stature, 97-mph fastball and sharp slider excited new pitching coach Leo Mazzone, who said Cabrera could be as good as anyone in the league. But his control went awry from the start this season. He walked 16 in his first 6 1/3 innings and had allowed 75 in 85 2/3 innings through Thursday. Though he mixed in several outstanding starts, he stood 4-7 with a 5.25 ERA after the loss to Texas.
Cabrera hit his spots and threw strikes with three pitches during side sessions but couldn't consistently translate that sharpness to games. He will be replaced by Loewen, another strapping pitcher with excellent stuff whose command comes and goes.
When the club demoted Loewen in late June, Perlozzo told him to earn his way back quickly. The 6-5 lefty responded with a 2-1 record and 1.27 ERA for the Lynx.
"We told Adam to go down and dominate down there because that's the kind of stuff you have," the manager said. "And he did that."
Loewen will probably start Monday, bumping Russ Ortiz back a day in the team's rotation.
Perlozzo expects Cabrera back just as quickly.
"I know he's frustrated and we're frustrated, but in the long run, that's what you do," Perlozzo said. "You get your kids back on track and you get them back up here to help you. It has nothing to do with anything other than getting him where he needs to be."
Duquette said the Orioles get numerous calls from teams hoping to trade for Cabrera but haven't considered any offers.
"He's a guy that is a very rare commodity," he said. "When he's throwing strikes, he's a dominant-type pitcher with a chance to be a No. 1. If we can develop one from within, that's what we want to do."