VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Daniel Cabrera prepared for his season debut April 6 against the Oakland A's by throwing five strong innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday at Holman Stadium.

Cabrera finished his spring schedule with a 1.64 ERA and a much-improved changeup that fooled a handful of Dodgers hitters. He appeared in total control on the mound and his command has been exemplary. What was an Achilles' heel last season -- control -- has transformed into one of Cabrera's strengths.

He issued five walks in 22 innings after compiling 89 walks in 147 2/3 innings as a rookie, or one per 1.65 innings. Last season, Cabrera's possessed little control of his fastball and even less command of his changeup.

But with 20 pounds more of muscle, an offseason of arduous work with pitching coach Ray Miller and increased confidence, Cabrera said he is prepared to handle the responsibility of being a No. 2 starter.

"When the season starts, it doesn't matter who the first or second one is, everybody is the same," he said. "I try to work hard every day and do the best I can for the team, try to pitch a good game."

The organization is banking on Cabrera to produce given the recent troubles of Sidney Ponson. Rodrigo Lopez was named the No. 1 starter last week, and while Ponson was expected to be No. 2, he was dropped in the rotation, partly because of his recent personal troubles.

The person most affected by Ponson's demotion was Cabrera, who was shifted from the No. 4 starter to No. 2. He has taken the promotion in stride and has gained the confidence of team officials with his steady pitching.

"I have said all along that he's made a giant leap," manager Lee Mazzilli said. "I've got a lot of confidence in the kid. He's got a lot of confidence in himself. There's a big difference in him from last year."

Cabrera said the key to his improvement is his changeup. Pitching coach Ray Miller stressed for Cabrera to work on his changeup in the offseason as an out pitch. He struck out Hee-Seop Choi swinging on a changeup in the second and then used the changeup to set up Milton Bradley, who got caught looking at a fastball in the fourth.

"Yeah, I have more confidence in the changeup," Cabrera said. "I work every day with Ray Miller. If you need somebody to give the credit to on that, it's Ray Miller. He helped me out a lot."

Julio ready: Jorge Julio allowed his first run of the spring, but still pitched a strong inning. He had a heavy ice pack on his right forearm but said he is ready for the season. Julio's fastball topped out at 96 mph on Tuesday after hitting 95 mph last week.

He said he still hasn't been told whether or not he will be the closer.


"I don't know what they want me to do, but I just want to help the team," he said. "I just want to stick in the Major Leagues."

Julio, who could be the center of trade talks, said his forearm -- which cost him three weeks -- is not a concern.

"I am feeling fine, 100 percent," he said. "I have no problems with my arm. It's good."

Tidbits: Rick Bauer will face the Cardinals on Thursday in Oklahoma City while Erik Bedard will start against Cards on Friday. ... The Orioles set an attendance record this spring at Fort Lauderdale Stadium. They drew 92,456 fans for 14 home games, smashing the previous record of 82,695. They averaged 6,610 per game. ... Chris Gomez went 4-for-4 to increase his spring average to .327.

Pitching matchups: The tentative matchups have been set for the Orioles' first road series of the season, a three-game series beginning April 8 against the New York Yankees. Ponson will go in the series opener against Kevin Brown, Lopez will face Randy Johnson and Cabrera will oppose Carl Pavano.

The Yankees have decided to skip Jaret Wright in their starting rotation until April 15.

Trade rumors: The Cardinals are apparently looking for a left-handed reliever after trading Mike Myers to Boston, and the Orioles have a surplus of lefties. The Orioles are considering sending down left-hander John Parrish to Triple-A Ottawa to keep Bruce Chen on the roster. Chen is out of options and would need to clear waivers to sent to the minors.

The Cardinals have had a scout at a chunk of Orioles games and have been seeking relief help all spring.

Ponson update: Ponson tossed five innings in a minor league game against the Cincinnati Reds' Triple-A club. He allowed three runs, six hits with five walks and no strikeouts. He threw 80 pitches. Ponson will make his season debut against the Yankees.

Coming up: The Orioles travel to Jupiter to play the St. Louis Cardinals in the first of a three-game series. The final two games will be played in Oklahoma City. Lopez, who was named Opening Day starter last week, will go for the Orioles against right-hander Jeff Suppan.

Lopez will start the season opener against the Oakland A's and Barry Zito.