Pitchers a hit with Canada

Bedard, Loewen return to Orioles camp after solid performances in World Baseball Classic

March 12, 2006|By JEFF ZREBIEC | JEFF ZREBIEC,SUN REPORTER

JUPITER, Fla. -- After an eight-day absence to compete for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic, Orioles starting pitcher Erik Bedard walked into the Orioles' clubhouse at Fort Lauderdale Stadium yesterday morning and was serenaded by several players singing the Canadian national anthem.

Moments later, pitching coach Leo Mazzone stopped by the left-hander's locker and wanted to know about Bedard's four scoreless and six strikeout innings in Canada's 11-8 victory over South Africa. Manager Sam Perlozzo was next to greet Bedard.

Twenty minutes later, Adam Loewen, the slender left-handed pitcher who became the talk of the World Baseball Classic after helping Canada to a shocking upset over the powerful American team, entered the clubhouse. He stopped to talk to several of the Orioles' prospects and then retreated to the far corner of the Orioles' locker room, where he sat quietly and did a Sudoku puzzle until he was interrupted by a small pack of reporters. It was the first time since Tuesday that Loewen enjoyed any semblance of quiet.

"I had like 12 missed calls after I came out of the game," Loewen said of Canada's 8-6 victory over the United States in which he pitched 3 2/3 innings, giving up three hits and three walks, but most importantly, no runs. "It was kind of crazy. That's pretty much like a big league start. It was like my first call-up - hopefully, it will get me ready for the real thing."

The real thing likely won't come any time soon. Loewen has never pitched above Single-A, and he's expected to start the season at Double-A Bowie with a possible promotion to Triple-A by midseason if the 6-foot-6, 21-year-old fares well. But if nothing else, Orioles officials are hoping that Loewen's start in the Classic helps his progression, which has been slower than most expected since the Orioles selected him fourth overall in the 2002 draft.

Loewen, who has battled control issues throughout his time in the minors, has a clause in his contract that stipulated that he must be on the Orioles' 25-man roster by next season, or the club will be forced to expose him to waivers.

"If he has the proper mindset, then puts in the work ethic and the thought process, it can be done," Mazzone said. "He needs to understand the style of pitcher he is and understand the proper mechanics on his fastball, and then upgrade his mound presence. But any time you pitch well, it gives you confidence."

Mazzone has been on the left-hander this spring to throw over the top and take advantage of his height. At one point during one of Loewen's side sessions this spring, Mazzone asked, "Aren't you a power pitcher?"

"My game plan is to attack hitters, even though sometimes it doesn't look like that," Loewen said. "When I do get ahead in counts, I usually do pretty well. I didn't get ahead a lot in counts that [Classic] game, but I made good pitches behind in the count."

The U.S. lineup that Loewen faced included the two defending batting champs - the Chicago Cubs' Derrek Lee and Texas Rangers' Michael Young - and three league Most Valuable Players. Later, Ernie Whitt, the manager of Team Canada, called the performance Loewen's "coming-out" party.

"It was All-Star after All-Star," Loewen said. "There was a bunch of future Hall-of-Famers in there, so I couldn't really pitch around anybody. It was a real good experience. I think a lot of us are going to bring good memories back."

Both Loewen and Bedard acknowledged that the Canadians suffered a letdown, falling to Mexico 24 hours later, a result that, coupled by the Americans' victory over South Africa, kept Canada from advancing out of Pool B. Mexico and the U.S advanced because of the run differential tiebreak.

"Rules are rules," Bedard said. "They made up the rules. I didn't make up any of them."

Mazzone has been pleased with all of his starters' efforts in the Classic. Rodrigo Lopez pitched four innings of one-run ball against the U.S. last week and Bruce Chen, who is expected to rejoin his teammates tomorrow, went five innings, allowing two runs for Panama against Cuba.

Daniel Cabrera pitched 3 1/3 innings, giving up one run in the Dominican Republic's victory over Australia on Friday night.

"Everybody that has pitched for us, our starters, has pitched well," Mazzone said. "That makes you feel really good."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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