Loewen growing pains no stunner

ORIOLES FOCUS

Baseball

A Look Inside

September 05, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

FREDERICK - Scott McGregor was there this spring when Orioles prospect Adam Loewen lived every young pitcher's nightmare.

Given his first taste of big league camp at age 19, Loewen was quickly reminded how far he must come to justify the $4 million contract the Orioles gave him as their top pick in the 2002 draft.

His last two outings before getting shipped to the minors were complete meltdowns, as he let seven consecutive batters reach base - walking six and hitting the other.

McGregor didn't see Loewen again until mid-August, after Loewen made the jump from Single-A Delmarva to Single-A Frederick, with the organization eager to see how the left-hander would fare against the stiffer competition in the Carolina League.

"He was better here than he was in spring training, I know that," said McGregor, who won 138 games for the Orioles and now serves as Frederick's pitching coach.

Loewen, who turned 20 in April, didn't have long to show McGregor what he could do. After tossing five shutout innings - despite walking six batters - in his first start for Frederick, Loewen left his second start last Saturday after three innings with pain in his left shoulder.

The injury caused Loewen to miss his final start Thursday, and he plans to see Orioles physician Dr. Charles Silberstein this week in Baltimore.

But McGregor, Loewen and Orioles minor league director Doc Rodgers all seemed rather unfazed by the injury. Loewen described a pinching sensation on the front of the shoulder - not the back of the shoulder, where rotator cuff and labrum injuries are felt.

"I guess I'm a little worried," Loewen said, "but I really believe it's nothing major."

A year ago, Loewen felt some stiffness in his left biceps, so the Orioles cut short his season after he posted a 2.70 ERA in 23 1/3 innings for short-season Single-A Aberdeen. This is the first time he's ever felt any pain in his shoulder or elbow.

McGregor said it sounded like tendinitis.

"It happens this time of year to a lot of these [young] guys," McGregor said. "When they first get an arm injury, they get scared to death."

So no, it doesn't sound like Loewen has a serious injury. And, no, it wouldn't be fair to call his first full professional season a disappointment.

In Delmarva, he also had a stint on the disabled list with a strained rib cage muscle. On July 19, he was struggling along at 2-4 with a 5.27 ERA. Then, in his final five starts in the South Atlantic League, he went 2-1 with a 1.86 ERA, earning the promotion.

McGregor saw Loewen's fastball reach 92-95 mph. At 6 feet 5, Loewen had a hard time controlling his curveball this year, leading to 67 walks in 93 1/3 innings, but he honed his slider and continued to throw a changeup.

"He's a tall young kid, and when he pitches there's a lot of parts moving," McGregor said. "You look at a guy like Randy Johnson; it took him years to figure it out. [Loewen] hasn't even found it yet. He's got so much inside of him. Sometimes he'll throw the ball, and it'll just explode out of his hand."

So it's imperative for people to be patient with Loewen. The Orioles still hope to send him to the Arizona Fall League, assuming the shoulder is OK, and he likely would start next season back in Frederick.

"I feel positive because I'm learning to deal with struggling real early," Loewen said. "Hopefully, I'm getting it out of the way, and I can go on to become a dominant pitcher."

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