Loewen's 1st steps for O's unsteady

Rookie misses his mark: four walks to 4 batters

March 11, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - The Orioles had the defending world champion Florida Marlins tied in the sixth inning yesterday, when they rolled the future of their franchise out to the mound for a little seasoning.

Adam Loewen, 19, wound up getting basted and broiled.

Four batters. Four walks.

Twenty pitches. Sixteen balls and four strikes.

Loewen gave up four earned runs, and the Marlins turned a 2-2 pitchers' duel into a 15-7 rout.

"I don't know what it was because I've really never done that before," Loewen said. "I've never been that wild."

It was the sort of spring training moment every team dreads. Less than a year after signing his first professional contract, fresh out of junior college, Loewen looked like he might be scarred for life.

But as he stood a few feet from the dugout, taking it all in, Orioles vice president Mike Flanagan hardly seemed like a man on crisis alert.

Sure, the team's $4 million bonus baby had skinned his knee. At least he hadn't disabled the future Hall of Fame third baseman.

"My first big league camp, I hit Brooksie [Brooks Robinson] in the knee," Flanagan said. "I thought I was going to get released.

"They put him on a stretcher and took him to the training room. I thought that was it for me. A little while later, I walked by him, and he looks at me and goes, `You're going to be all right, kid.' "

Flanagan said as he watched Loewen, he felt a bit like a parent walking behind a child as he takes his first steps. You know they're going to fall, but you have to let them do it, so they learn to trust their own legs.

This is Loewen's first big league camp. His first outing came Saturday against the Montreal Expos. This one against the Marlins left him at 0-2 with a 54.00 ERA.

"You learn more in this game from failure than you do from success," Flanagan said. "I don't remember many of my wins, but I remember most of my losses, or what caused them."

Flanagan thought Loewen's entire demeanor changed after his first pitch, a fastball to Marlins leadoff hitter Abraham Nunez that looked close enough to be called a strike but was called a ball.

Loewen walked Nunez on four pitches. Then, he walked Damion Easley on five pitches. Orioles pitching coach Mark Wiley paid a visit, and then Loewen loaded the bases with a five-pitch walk to Wil Cordero.

"If that was my first outing, I would have thought it was rustiness, but it was just a lack of concentration," Loewen said. "I just didn't have it today, I guess. ... I was all over the place in the bullpen too. I guess I wasn't very loose, but that's no excuse."

When Cordero took his base, the crowd of 6,261 at Fort Lauderdale Stadium started to stir. Miguel Cabrera, the 20-year-old who crashed onto the scene last October for the Marlins, strolled to home plate.

One at-bat earlier, Cabrera had crushed an opposite-field home run off Orioles reliever Daniel Cabrera (no relation), with one of those swings that awe the scouts.

Loewen greeted him with a fastball, high and inside for ball one. Miguel Cabrera ran the count full, and then took his walk on the sixth pitch of the at-bat. If this matchup turns into one of those Roger Clemens-Mike Piazza rivalries, this was only the tease.

Wiley went back to the mound and took the ball. Loewen jogged off the field emotionlessly. Flanagan kept watching, as his former teammate, Scott McGregor, came over for a chat.

McGregor will be the pitching coach at Single-A Frederick this season. The Orioles are planning to send Loewen to either Frederick or Single-A Delmarva, so there's a good chance he'll wind up under McGregor's tutelage.

Rest assured, McGregor will see past this one outing. Especially considering how he fared in his first big league spring training game.

He recalled it yesterday. The Orioles were facing an Atlanta Braves team that featured Hank Aaron and Dusty Baker. Current Braves manager Bobby Cox, then the organization's Triple-A manager, was watching from the stands.

"I gave up six runs, and balls were flying everywhere," McGregor said. "After the game [Cox] said, `I was never so impressed with somebody giving up six runs.' I go, `Why is that?' And he said, `You backed up every base.' "

Flanagan and McGregor obviously survived. Flanagan won the 1979 Cy Young Award. McGregor was an All-Star in 1981, and they both were part of two Orioles' World Series teams.

They weren't worried about the way Loewen would react, and he gave them little reason to worry later. After showering and dressing, he said, "I'm not rattled at all. I know I can bounce back from this right away. I'm already over it right now, actually. I'm looking forward to my next start and going out and actually doing the job next time."

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