BOWIE -- As a free-agent outfielder playing in Venezuela last winter, Adam Loewen hoped to show enough to earn a chance in spring training. And then he realized that his best shot to get back to the major leagues might be what originally got him there: his prized left arm.
Now with the Reading Fightin Phils, the Philadelphia Phillies' Double-A affiliate, Loewen came with his team to Double-A Bowie this week.
"It's like I'm starting over every five years at something different," Loewen said Tuesday. "I figured five years, almost six years was enough time for a fracture to heal. Why not see how it feels throwing off the mound again?"
Loewen, 30, has received a rare third chance in professional baseball. The Orioles' 2002 first-round pick, he pitched for the club for parts of the 2006 to 2008 seasons before a second stress fracture in his throwing elbow in as many years forced him to leave the mound for the outfield.
The Orioles planned to allow that transition to happen in their own minor league system.
But Loewen instead signed in October 2008 with the Toronto Blue Jays, the team he supported while growing up in British Columbia. He spent three seasons in the minor leagues before a stint in the major leagues at the end of the 2011 season.
After failing to return to the major leagues as an outfielder in the past two seasons — in the New York Mets' organization in 2012 and again with the Blue Jays last year — Loewen's arm was healthy enough for him to return to the mound this year.
Once he returned to pitching, Loewen built up his arm strength by throwing in Venezuela and participating in bullpen sessions near his home in Arizona. He then worked out for major league teams in April. The Phillies signed Loewen on April 16 to a two-year minor league contract, and he made two starts for High-A Clearwater in May before he was promoted to Reading.
"I had reservations on how many pitches I threw, how much effort I put into it," he said. "I think I was a little reserved on letting fastballs go, throwing off-speed pitches. It just took like a month to get the feel back on the mound.
"Then, after I got that back, I started to let it go, and it just slowly built up. I think I was throwing 84-85 [mph] when I showed up, and then every time out, it got a little better."
Now, Loewen tops out at 92 mph, with his typical wipeout breaking ball and an improved changeup from his last stint as a pitcher.
Reading manager Dusty Wathan said that's all part of learning to be a pitcher, something Loewen's "plus arm" didn't require him to be when he was with the Orioles.
"I think it's something he had to [learn]," Wathan said. "He doesn't have the arm that he had when he first signed. … It's something that he probably would have learned a few years back if he was still pitching. He's learned to manipulate the ball a little bit with a few grips. It's been very valuable."
Loewen is 2-5 with a 3.26 ERA in 14 starts for Reading this season, but he has pitched well lately. His last outing, a loss to Binghamton, broke a streak of nine starts with at least six innings pitched and three or fewer earned runs allowed.
After allowing 14 earned runs in 20 2/3 innings in his first four starts for Reading, Loewen has held opponents to 17 earned runs in 65 innings over his last 10 starts, good for a 2.35 ERA in that stretch.
"The consistency is something that I'm really happy with, and every time out, I may not be throwing as hard as I'd like to, but the quality of pitches, I'm really happy with," Loewen said. "The sharpness and the way I can think through the game is a lot different than the way I used to think about it."
Wathan said Loewen's experience as a pitcher in the major leagues with the Orioles, where he was 8-8 with a 5.38 ERA in 35 career appearances, makes him a good mentor to Reading's young pitching staff.
But even after so many years, Loewen struggled to talk about the decision that brought his time with the Orioles to an end.
Loewen announced he was done pitching in June 2008, and he worked out as a hitter that season. He needed to clear waivers and become a free agent before re-signing a minor league deal with the Orioles, and team officials thought they had an agreement to bring him back before Loewen signed with Toronto.
"It was a fresh start," Loewen said. "I don't regret it, because my path has been kind of a unique one, and I just thought that was the best fit to succeed. That was the bottom line. … It's a really tough one to explain, because there's a lot of emotions that go into it. I felt like I let a lot of people down. But I don't have any regrets."
That fresh start included the brief realization of a childhood dream. The Blue Jays purchased Loewen's contract from Triple-A Las Vegas on Sept. 6, 2011, and he had five hits in his first five games. One of those hits was a game-tying home run against the Orioles.
But Loewen had just one hit in his final 18 at-bats that season, and he was a free agent by November. After spending the past two seasons in minor league outfields, he is back on the mound this year.
Wathan said he has seen enough from Loewen to think a third stint in the major leagues is possible.
"I don't make those decisions, but I don't see why a left-handed guy that's getting guys out doesn't have a chance to progress forward," Wathan said.