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Braves defeat Nationals
Atlanta Braves pitcher Jair Jurrjens throws to a Washington Nationals batter during the first inning of a spring training baseball game Thursday in Kissimmee, Fla. - photo by Robb Carr
BRADENTON, Fla. — Daniel Cabrera was happy with the way he pitched Thursday for the Washington Nationals in a 6-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves.

It was his hitting that made him giddy.

Cabrera, who struck out 14 times with the Baltimore Orioles over the past five seasons, singled to right in his first spring training at-bat with Washington.

The right-hander sent the ball into right field with an awkward swing and almost fell as he loped to first base. Cabrera then scored on a two-run double by teammate Ryan Zimmerman, nearly getting run over by Lastings Milledge, who was scoring behind him.

"A base hit, the first time in my life," Cabrera said. "Once I got to first, I was so excited, I really wanted to score."

The Nationals signed Cabrera this winter to a one-year, $2.6 million contract, expecting him to be a key part of their upgraded starting rotation and knowing they would have to spend some time teaching him to hit, bunt and even slide.

"I think he just threw his bat at the ball," Braves starter Jair Jurrjens said.

One reason Cabrera decided against pitching for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic was because he wanted to learn how to bat for his new team.

"That (hit by Cabrera) was pretty impressive," Acta said. "He was pumped up over that single. He's going to have learn how to slide, though. He might be getting on base a couple times this year."

A 6-foot-9, 270-pound right-hander, Cabrera provided another glimpse of his vast potential and often frustrating inconsistency, throwing an almost flawless three innings before faltering in the fourth.

He faced only 10 batters in his first three scoreless innings, but he left with two outs in the fourth after issuing his only walk. He was charged with two runs.

"I'm looking for a big year. I'm hoping this is the year for me," Cabrera said after his third outing this spring. "I feel good about where I'm at, and I'm looking for good things."

After spending his first five seasons with the Orioles, Cabrera is determined to find the consistency that has eluded him. He was
48-59 with a 5.05 ERA, often struggling to control his 98 mph fastball. He has averaged 95 walks each season.

He was 8-10 last season with a 5.25 ERA, but he lost his last three decisions and was sidedlined late with a sore elbow. A week after the Orioles decided not to offer a contract, he decided he was going to Washington.

The Nationals have been working extensively with him this spring , altering his motion and mechanics.

"He's making progress, but pitchers don't change overnight," Manager Manny Acta said. "He's making strides. He's buying into what we're doing. Today he was throwing well, breaking balls for strikes, and I'll take that every day."

Jurrjens, expected to be No. 3 or 4 in the Braves' rotation, allowed three hits and two runs in four innings. He was Atlanta's most consistent pitcher last season when he finished 13-10 and third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting.

For the Braves, left fielder Brandon Jones had two hits and two RBIs. Jason Heyward hit his second homer of the spring in the seventh inning. First baseman Freddie Freeman and second baseman Omar Infante had two hits apiece. Milledge had two hits for the Nationals.

Braves third baseman Martin Prado hit what appeared to be an opposite-field single to right in the second inning, only to have right fielder Austin Kearns charge the ball and throw him out at first when Prado was a little too casual running down the line.
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