MILWAUKEE -- Hype steadily grew over the past few years for Marlins right-hander Edward Cabrera, but injuries kept holding back the 2021 Top 100 prospect.
Though an aggravated right ankle issue cut short his season finale after three perfect innings in Saturday night’s 4-3 comeback win over the Brewers at American Family Field, Cabrera showed promise in his first extended stint in the big leagues.
“He just kind of has really stepped forward as far as living up to his stuff,” manager Don Mattingly said. “He's got a ways to go to be quite honest with you. He's a lot like Sandy [Alcantara] was early. You see glimpses, and you can see dominance, and then you see other glimpses that he's got a ways to go.
“But I think this year has been a year that his stuff kind of lived up to what we thought he was going to be. At least the start of it. It's been a solid year for him. ... But it's been a year I think for him, it's probably a confidence booster, good for the organization to be able to see that this guy can be a guy. I think if you talk about him, you have to really think more about, can he hold up for 30 [starts]?”
Cabrera, who left his previous start when he strained the same ankle, took two awkward hops and grimaced following his strikeout of Tyrone Taylor to end the third. Cabrera threw his warmup pitches before the bottom of the fourth, but Mattingly, the training staff, pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. and the entire infield visited him on the mound.
After a huddle, Cabrera surrendered the ball to Mattingly. Cabrera had retired the first nine batters he faced, five via strikeout, on 42 pitches (32 strikes).
“He could have probably tried it, but again, we're at a point where this is his last start,” Mattingly said. “It just doesn't seem worth it for him to not be able to use his body the way he should. And he's just too valuable, I think, to the organization to let him keep going.”
In an organization built around starting pitching, Cabrera has some of its best stuff. Look no further than the 96 mph changeup that turned heads in his 2022 debut. When he commands his high-90s fastball, Cabrera’s secondary offerings -- better than Alcantara’s at that age, per Mattingly -- make him nearly unhittable.
The 24-year-old Cabrera, who scuffled with a 5.81 ERA in seven starts during his first callup in 2021, concluded his second taste with a 3.01 ERA in 14 starts -- eight of which he allowed one run or fewer. During a stretch in August, he pitched four consecutive scoreless outings (22 2/3 IP).
“I will say [improve] on everything, and just try to improve a little bit of everything on my stuff,” Cabrera said via interpreter Luis Dorante Jr., “so I can come back next year and keep back in the rotation, and continue helping the team. It's not easy to say [whether I’ve done enough to win a rotation spot]. But I always trust myself a lot. I trust myself. Besides God, I trust me. I trust my stuff, and it will be God's decision if next year I'm going to be in the five in the rotation. I'll be there.”
Stuff has never been Cabrera’s issue, rather his health. He reported to Major League camp in March a day late due to a visa issue, then he was eased in during Spring Training because of that and the extended lockout not permitting him a typical offseason plan.
Cabrera began the season on the Minor League injured list with a biceps issue -- the second time one has sidelined him; in spring 2021, he was diagnosed with an inflamed nerve that kept him out until June 6.
Cabrera also missed time from June 13-Aug. 5 with right elbow tendinitis. Despite this, he still set career highs for starts (23) and innings (110 2/3) between the Majors and Minors in 2022.
According to Stottlemyre, Cabrera can continue to grow by learning the same lessons that have turned Alcantara, who will not pitch in Wednesday’s season finale, into one of the game’s most dominant pitchers: be in the zone, stay in good counts and trust your stuff.
“He's good,” Alcantara said of Cabrera. “He's just got to keep getting better, keep improving and be healthy. You guys can see what he did in the first three innings before we take him out of the game. But I think when he's healthy, he can do everything.”