Commanding performance

The Baltimore Sun

SEATTLE -- The question has been asked about Daniel Cabrera frequently the past couple of seasons, and it's being discussed again during one of the best three-start runs of his enigmatic career.

Has Cabrera, the imposing 26-year-old pitcher who has dazzled the Orioles over the past four seasons with his talent and dismayed them with his lack of consistency and control, finally turned the corner?

Cabrera prefers to focus on his next start, cautiously avoiding big-picture pronouncements. But his teammates, who have seen Cabrera dominate for similar stretches before, answered the question for him.

"He's been great because he's throwing strikes," first baseman Kevin Millar said. "I think he's turned the corner if he's not having to throw his breaking ball and try to trick guys. He's starting to realize that he can get into the seventh or eighth inning by pitching off his fastball, period."

Right fielder Nick Markakis, whose eighth-inning solo home run Wednesday gave the Orioles and Cabrera a 3-2 victory over the Seattle Mariners, said, "It's a completely different guy out there. He's commanding his fastball. He's getting ahead of batters. He went eight innings [Wednesday] and he was still under 100 pitches. That speaks for itself."

Cabrera's performance Wednesday certainly spoke volumes. He allowed two runs on five hits in eight innings, improving to 2-0 with a 4.40 ERA in five starts. It was the longest outing for an Orioles starter this year, and Cabrera's longest since June 16 last season.

He didn't walk a batter for the first time since May 10 last season, a span of 30 outings. And he's 2-0 with a 2.18 ERA over his past three starts spanning 20 2/3 innings, surrendering just five walks and one home run and striking out 12.

"I'm just trying to keep it straight, not trying to do too much, just trying to make a good pitch and see if they can get a bad swing," said Cabrera, who was 9-18 last season with a 5.55 ERA and led the league in walks for a second consecutive year. "I've been around for a little while, so I'm trying to keep it straight and trying to do everything right."

What has been the biggest difference? Cabrera credits new pitching coach Rick Kranitz, who has worked with the 6-foot-9 pitcher extensively in bullpen and video sessions, where they have reviewed his mechanics and tried to get him to repeat his delivery.

"He's helped me with everything," Cabrera said. "He's an unbelievable guy and I just appreciate everything he does for me. So far, everything is good."

Before Cabrera's third start this season, Kranitz told the pitcher to focus primarily on his fastball, specifically his two-seamer, which has good movement. Cabrera, who spent much of the spring trying to perfect a changeup, went out and held the Tampa Bay Rays to one earned run over 6 2/3 innings, throwing almost exclusively his fastball.

He has stayed with the game plan ever since, mixing in the occasional off-speed offering but relying on his two-seam fastball to get ahead in the count and produce ground balls. Wednesday, he threw 65 of his 95 pitches for strikes and retired 15 of the final 16 Mariners he faced before giving the ball to closer George Sherrill, who pitched a scoreless ninth for his seventh save.

"We always say if he ever figured it out and put it together like tonight, he's tough to beat," the Mariners' Richie Sexson told The Seattle Times. "He didn't have to throw too many off-speed pitches with the movement he had on his fastball."

Cabrera might have been most impressive in the fourth inning after the Mariners loaded the bases with no outs on three consecutive singles. Cabrera allowed one run in the inning and one more base runner for the rest of his outing.

"I think for the first time in his career, Cabrera believes he can do it," Trembley said. "I think he believes that there are people backing him up, not just on the coaching staff, but the players and the team. They are starting to get the feel that when he pitches, he's going to give us a chance to win, plain and simple."

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