Fernando Cabrera tears it up with PawSox, awaits call

Evan Brunell@evanbrunellFeatured ColumnistAugust 9, 2009

Will the real Fernando Cabrera please stand up?

Is it the Cabrera, who from 2006-08, posted a minor league ERA of 1.12?

Or is it the Cabrera who, during the same period, had a major league ERA of 5.92?

"I don't look at stats and I don't know what his stats were (last season) with the Orioles," said Pawtucket Red Sox pitching coach Rich Sauveur of the team's closer. "I can only go on what I've seen this year. To me, this kid can pitch in the big leagues right now.

"I'm sure his name has been thrown around (prior to the non-waiver trade deadline) by teams looking for help. The kid has done a very, very nice job for us in Pawtucket."

Once Daniel Bard was recalled by Boston, the 27-year-old Cabrera slid into the closer's role and has been nearly flawless.

Through August 7, Cabrera was 20-for-20 in save opportunities.

Overall, he was 0-3 with 20 saves, a 1.69 ERA and 45 strikeouts in 48 innings. He even earned a save in the Triple-A All-Star Game.

Cabrera, who's been in pro ball since he was 18 (he was picked by Cleveland in the 10th round of the 1989 draft), split last season between Norfolk (0-0, 0.69 ERA in 11 relief appearances) and Baltimore (2-1, 5.40 ERA in 22 relief appearances).

He signed a minor league free agent contract with Boston last December, and has been nothing short of superb for the offensively-impaired PawSox.

"It's been a tough season," understated Sauveur. "We haven't been scoring runs and he still was leading the league with 17 saves (which, as of deadline, ranked second in the I.L.). To lead the league in saves when we weren't scoring runs... it's an amazing job that he's done."

"He knows what his job is when he comes in the game no matter if it's the eighth or ninth inning. I think we're fortunate to have him here."

In Cabrera's opinion, the reasons are three-fold why he's having a career year:

  • He's more aggressive.
  • He's enjoying the game.
  • He's mentally tougher.

"I have more confidence in my fastball now," said Cabrera, who's been clocked in the 92-to-94 range. "I attack the hitter. In the last couple of years, I changed the way I was pitching. I went to a slider when I felt I needed to and lost my confidence with the fastball. This year, I trust my fastball more and I use it. Then, I go with the other pitch.

"I didn't change much mechanically but I did in terms of attacking the hitters. I went through the minors attacking the hitters, but as soon as you get to the big leagues, you change everything.

"You can't do that," continued Cabrera, "because the game's going to hurt you."

To put it another way, Cabrera has stopped "nibbling."

Cabrera also has found a comfort zone in Pawtucket which has been lacking.

"I feel really comfortable in the organization with the job I'm doing so far and the people I'm working for," he said. "That's very important. The last couple of years, I didn't have fun. Right now, I'm having fun and am enjoying what I'm doing. That's something I missed the last couple of years even when I was in the big leagues."

"I finally started having fun last year in winter ball in Puerto Rico. Then, I got here in this organization and felt the same way. I like the organization because they helped me get my confidence back. That was important for me when I made my decision."

The decision Cabrera referred to concerned an "out" clause in his contract which enabled him to become a free agent if he wasn't on Boston's roster by June 1.

Instead of opting for free agency, Cabrera opted to remain with Pawtucket.

To an extent, the Cabrera of 2009 resembles the Cabrera of 2005 when, with Buffalo, he was 6-1 with three saves and a 1.23 ERA in 30 games and with Cleveland he was 2-1 with a 1.47 ERA in 30.2 innings.

Given his tender age at the time, did Cabrera think the game was too easy?

"I never believed in that," he said. "Mentally, I was really strong. But I got to the point where I was thinking too much... thinking about things I couldn't control and that's what really hurt me. It didn't hurt me for one year. It hurt me for two or three years."

"Every time I had a bad outing, I didn't know how to forget that. Instead, I wanted to try harder. I wanted to strike out everybody. I wanted to show the team I was ready to pitch and that I just had a bad outing."

"By trying too hard, I forgot how to do things like getting over what happened already and that tomorrow is a new day," added Cabrera. "I didn't know how to do that and it hurt me."

From a technical standpoint, Sauveur has "tweaked" only one thing with Cabrera, whose repertoire includes a fastball (which, as Sauveur says, has "late life"), a slider and a changeup.

"We had to have him quicker to the plate," said Sauveur. "If you watch coaches from the big leagues down to A ball, you see them with stop watches. They're timing pitchers to the plate."

"When he arrived here, he was like 1.6 to almost 1.7 to the plate with a big leg kick and a long arm behind him. I told him you'll have to be quicker to the plate because Boston won't want anybody here who's not quick to the plate. That's the first thing they tell me. Make sure pitchers can hold on runners."

As a result of working on that aspect, Cabrera has reduced his time to the plate to the 1.29-to-1.39 range.

"That's very workable in the big leagues and at this level," said Sauveur. "He's holding runners on a lot better now and giving catchers an opportunity to throw them out."

The next question is, even if Cabrera continues to pitch well, how can he squeeze his way into Boston's bullpen?

Asking Cabrera is a waste of time.

"It's one thing I can't control," he said. "The only thing I can control is to come to tomorrow's game, and if we're winning, try to close the game. That's the only thing that's in my hands and the only thing I'm worried about.

"I can't think about what's happening in Boston or other things in the big leagues. That's something I learned to control. Before, I didn't know how to do that and maybe I got upset. I'm just glad this team is giving me a chance to play the game."


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