Colorado’s No. 19 prospect allowed one hit over seven dominant innings in the Double-A Tulsa Drillers’ 6-0 victory over the Northwest Arkansas Naturals on Monday.
Cabrera, signed by the Rockies as a non-drafted free agent in 2008, struck out five batters and walked two, lowering his Texas League ERA to 3.25 and improving to 6-4. But unlike the pitcher that fanned 217 batters over 167 innings between two levels last season, this year’s version — let’s call him Edwar 2.0 — is succeeding by pitching to contact.
“We wanted more ground balls, so I pitched down in the zone where the hitters can’t hit fly balls,” said Cabrera, who threw 57 of 87 pitches for strikes. “I don’t want to pitch for a strikeout right now because I want to throw six or seven innings every start. When I’m thinking about strikeouts, I’m throwing too many pitchers to hitters and not throwing too many innings.
“I am thinking three pitches per hitter. I’m not thinking about strikeouts or anything, only about pitching my game and pitching to contact. I stay focused, throw down in the zone and try to get ground balls.”
On Monday, the approach paid off. A native of Santana in the Dominican Republic, Cabrera induced 10 ground balls and three infield popups. Only three balls left the infield and just one of these — Yem Prades’ sixth-inning line drive to left field — resulted in a hit.
“For me, I was pretty good tonight,” he said. “I threw my four-seamer in and my two-seamer away. I only used a couple changeups and breaking balls today. I was not thinking about a no-hitter, only about my mechanics and throwing down in the zone … I’m only thinking about helping my teammates.”
The 6-foot left-hander was perfect through the first four innings, but he needed a 6-4-3 double play ball to work around two walks and second baseman Rey Navarro’s fielding error to escape the fifth frame unharmed.
Center fielder Prades broke up Cabrera’s no-hit bid with one out in the sixth, but the 24-year-old retired the final five batters he faced before turning over a 6-0 lead to the bullpen in the eighth.
“I threw back-to-back curveballs because in the fourth inning he swung and missed at them,” Cabrera said of Prades’ base hit. “They told me I could throw another one. It was a good pitch, but he was looking for that pitch. Everything was good. That is good for him.
“I was thinking I maybe I could come back out, but Sullivan needed to throw today. [Manager Duane Espy] told me that was it for today and that I did a really good job but Sullivan was coming in.”
Sullivan pitched a 1-2-3 eighth before working around a single and a walk in the ninth to preserve the shutout.
“He threw good,” said Cabrera, whose 68 strikeouts rank fourth in the Texas League and tied for 45th in the Minors, 34 behind Reno’s Trevor Bauer. “He threw his fastball really good today and his slider was good.”
Monday’s outing was exactly what Cabrera needed to get back on track. He had recorded just one win in his previous five starts, and in his last two outings, he gave up a combined nine runs on 12 hits and three walks. On Wednesday, Cabrera yielded six runs on eight hits over 5 2/3 innings at home to Springfield.
“On Wednesday I don’t have any excuses,” said Cabrera, who fell just short of perfection back in April. “It was a really bad day for myself. A couple days ago, my pitching coach [Dave Schuler] told me that I had something bad in my mechanics so we watched video and worked on the mechanics in between bullpen [sessions].
“I was overthrowing my fastball. He told me not to throw it as hard as I could, but to stay back. I was trying to throw it too hard, trying to throw the perfect pitch. My fastballs were higher [in the zone] when I tried to throw it too hard. He showed me that in my video. … We worked on that tonight.”
Northwest Arkansas starter Elisaul Pimentel (2-4) took the loss Monday. He allowed five runs — four earned — on eight hits and a walk while striking out two batters over four innings.