Same old, same old

The Baltimore Sun

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -When Manny Acta looks at new Washington Nationals pitcher Daniel Cabrera, he sees the same thing everyone in Baltimore has been looking at for the past five years.

Enormous potential and room to wonder why it has never been realized.

The challenge, of course, is to find a way to succeed where so many other managers and pitching coaches have failed, and find the key that unlocks all that pent-up pitching talent.

Acta thinks he and pitching coach Randy St. Claire might have made a fairly basic change in his delivery that could make a difference, but Cabrera's erratic performance yesterday against the Orioles would have fit right into the body of work that convinced the Orioles to nontender him in December.

Cabrera struggled through two innings, giving up four hits and two walks and avoiding a total meltdown only because left fielder Roger Bernardina made two spectacular catches to keep the Orioles from turning it into an early scoring fest. Somehow, they scored only one run in spite of the six runners who reached base and the four bases they stole against a former teammate whose weaknesses they knew all too well.

How well?

First baseman Aubrey Huff was asked before the game how he intended to approach his first at-bat against Cabrera, and his answer pretty much summed it up.

"I've told Daniel a thousand times: 'If I ever face you, I'm just going to stand there. If you can throw three strikes, that's great. Then, just for fun, I'm going to steal on the first pitch.' "

Huff made good on half his promise. He didn't just stand there. He fouled off a few pitches before walking in the first inning. But he was true to his word and stole second base at the first opportunity, exposing Cabrera's well-known inability to hold runners on base, even runners who aren't normally considered a threat to steal.

"Yeah," Cabrera said afterward, without a trace of disdain, "he got me today."

Cabrera didn't seem too concerned about yesterday's results, just as he didn't seem terribly interested in discussing how he ended up in the Nationals' rotation after so many fits and starts with the Orioles. He did allow that it was a little strange pitching against his old teammates.

"It felt weird," he said. "When you play for so long for one team and you move to another team, it feels weird. I was a little wild in the first inning, but I was working on some stuff. I was working behind too much, but I felt great, and that's the important thing."

The circumstances that led to his separation from the only team he had played for are well known. His inconsistency became such a source of organizational frustration that the Orioles were not willing to risk going to salary arbitration with him, so they cut him loose and the Nationals signed him to a one-year contract worth $2.6 million.

The Nationals were willing to gamble that they could help Cabrera get his mechanical issues ironed out, and Acta thinks the answer can be found in the pitcher's legs and not in his head.

"We don't feel it's a mental thing," Acta said. "A lot of times when guys have shorter strides or longer strides, they're not aware of it. They need videos or someone else has to be watching it from outside. It's a little video adjustment that Randy is trying to make. They're watching videos, and we think this is going to help him.

"When you're that tall [Cabrera is 6 feet 7], you have to use every inch of your body. If you're not striding as much as you should stride, you're shortchanging yourself. ... That's what they've been working on."

Orioles manager Dave Trembley and pitching coach Rick Kranitz worked on some of the same things with Cabrera, but they hope Acta and St. Claire can succeed where they failed.

"We looked at a lot of stuff," Kranitz said. "He was as good as you could want for 12-15 starts last year. I don't know if it was the injury or what, but the velocity wasn't there after that. ... I hope everything goes good for him, because he's a good guy. I hope he has a great year. That's how much I like the guy."

Trembley knows Cabrera's time with the Orioles evokes different emotions in different people, but he doesn't question Cabrera's effort or the front office's decision to cut him loose after a five-year major league run during which he was 48-59 with a 5.05 ERA. It was just time.

"We did the best we could, and then it was a consensus of opinion that we had other options, so we went in another direction," Trembley said. "I know Daniel did the best he could all the time. His effort was good. His work habits were very good. I can't fault his approach one bit. Obviously people will say he didn't live up to what the expectations were, but that's not for me to say at all."

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