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04-05-00, 05:27 PM
COMING OF AGE IN A HURRY

Astros counting on young hurlers Dotel, Cabrera to pitch in
By JOSEPH DUARTE
Copyright 2000 Houston Chronicle


Octavio Dotel is still a work in progress.

The Astros believe the potential is there for the 24-year-old righthander to someday become a top-of-the-rotation-type pitcher, which was one of the main reasons they asked for Dotel to be included this offseason in a deal with the New York Mets for National League Cy Young runner-up Mike Hampton.

Not uncommon for a pitcher with less than a full season in the major leagues, Dotel has plenty to learn.

There's still the matter of developing a changeup to go with his 95-mph fastball. Astros manager Larry Dierker and pitching coach Vern Ruhle also have been trying to help Dotel correct a glitch in his mechanics, which has caused some control problems. They are trying to get Dotel to cut down on the number of pitches he throws, focusing more on groundouts rather than strikeouts.

"He's been our biggest project this spring," Dierker said of Dotel, who will start the season as the No. 3 starter in the rotation.

Last year as a rookie, Dotel went 8-3 with a 5.38 ERA in 19 appearances -- 14 as a starter -- for the Mets and was 7-1 after the All-Star break. At times he has shown flashes of brilliance, averaging a strikeout per inning and holding opposing hitters to a .226 average. But Dotel also walked 49 batters in 85 innings and gave up 12 home runs.

"To be a dominant pitcher, you've got to learn some of the basic philosophies," Dierker said. "You've got to learn to pitch, not just overpower or see every batter as a personal challenge."

Dotel already has something not many current Astros pitchers have: a "W" in the postseason. Although he wasn't in the Mets' rotation during the playoffs, Dotel earned the win in relief during Game 5 of the NL Championship Series against the Atlanta Braves.

Dierker believes Dotel will benefit from having close friend and fellow Dominican Jose Lima nearby. Lima, who has won 37 games the past two seasons, has served as a mentor to Dotel this spring while helping the young pitcher craft his changeup.

"If he develops it he'll be nasty," Lima said.

Just like Lima, Dotel has a competitive fire when he takes the mound. And just like the Astros' coaching staff helped Lima, Dotel is willing to listen.

"We called him in (for a meeting) this spring and brought Jose along to explain," Dierker said. "He told Dotel, `They'll make you better. They'll make you a lot of money.' Lima encouraged him to listen to what we had to say."

Dotel doesn't expect to make people forget about Hampton, but he is anxious to prove he was worth the price the Astros paid. Along with Dotel, the Astros received center fielder Roger Cedeņo and a minor-league pitching prospect for Hampton and outfielder Derek Bell.

"They traded the best pitcher they had to get me," Dotel said. "That tells me what they think of me."

The Astros are counting on a strong year from another of their young pitchers, reliever Jose Cabrera.

Cabrera saw his stock in the organization skyrocket by allowing only one earned run in 12 appearances the final month of the season. He was 4-0 with a 2.15 ERA for the Astros in 1999.

In Game 3 of the NL division series against the Braves, Cabrera gave the best performance of his brief career, striking out six batters in two innings of relief.

"That was a big moment that I'll never forget," Cabrera said.

Cabrera, a hard-throwing righthander whose best pitch is a four-seam fastball, will join Jay Powell in the setup role to closer Billy Wagner. If the added responsibilities were not enough, Cabrera has added incentives: He is eligible for arbitration after this season.

"It makes me feel good to have a spot on the team. This is going to be my first full year if I stay healthy," said Cabrera, who has set a goal of pitching 80-90 innings this season.

The Astros had hoped to see Cabrera sooner than this season. He made the roster out of spring training in 1998 but appeared in only three games because of a "loose" shoulder. He made only a handful of starts in the minors before undergoing surgery.

He entered spring training a year ago with the uncertainty of where he stood in the organization. A talk with general manager Gerry Hunsicker quieted any concerns.

"They made me feel comfortable," Cabrera said. "They told me I was going to start the season at Triple-A and to keep working there on my velocity and getting my body in shape and I would be in Houston soon."

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Dotel is scheduled to start Saturday vs Philly. His control during the spring has been a problem, he led the 'Stros in walks with 16. In his last couple of spring games he was hammered by the Royals, 10 runs on 10 hits in three innings, and again by the Rangers 6 runs on 5 hits in six innings, however he did retire the last six Rangers he faced. The talk is he may end up in the bullpen until he gets straightened out.


GO YANKEES !!

26 in '00

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