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With little to go on but my gut, I'm penciling left-hander Adam Loewen to make his second major league start on Thursday against the Blue Jays. I think he's earned at least one more look.

This could all be moot in a matter of hours when the Orioles activate Daniel Cabrera from the disabled list to start tonight's series opener. Loewen could very well be the one to go.

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But by pitching five solid innings against the Yankees on Saturday afternoon, Loewen at least showed he can hack it in the big leagues. Granted, he faced a depleted New York lineup, one without Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield or Hideki Matsui. And Loewen was somewhat inefficient, needing 102 pitches to get through five innings.

But he did give the O's a chance to win - about all you can hope for from a roughed-up rotation of late - by giving up four runs (three earned) in five innings. It didn't help that his opponent was five-time Cy Young Award winner Randy Johnson. Should Loewen stick around to pitch Thursday, he won't have it any easier against Toronto's Roy Halladay.

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Loewen, a former first-round pick, is one of the brightest prospects in the Orioles system, but he hadn't pitched above Double-A before being recalled two weeks ago. His control was spotty on Saturday, but he has big-league pop on his fastball and a good curveball that he can throw for strikes.

Loewen could probably benefit from more seasoning in the minors, but he'll be back with the big club sooner than later - a clause in Loewen's contract stipulates that he must be in the majors next season or be released. Sam Perlozzo indicated Sunday that Loewen would likely rejoin the rotation later this season.

So what's the right move here? It's a tough call, to be sure. Peter Schmuck framed the debate nicely in his Sunday column.

My two and half cents - the Orioles ought to stick with Loewen for a few more starts, see what the kid can do. The short-term alternative, Bruce Chen (0-5), hasn't fooled anyone. Honestly, how much worse could Loewen be? In a few weeks, when Hayden Penn has recovered from his emergency appendectomy, the O's can reevaluate.

From a fantasy standpoint, Loewen is at least a year away. He's too risky to run out there right now, though he's worth grabbing and holding onto in deep AL leagues. Look for him to join the rotation in August or September, enjoy sporadic success in 2007 and become a reliable fantasy starter in 2008. His limited minor league numbers indicate a high strikeout potential - he has 55 Ks in 49 2/3 IP at Double-A Bowie this season.

Elsewhere, Rodrigo Lopez appears to have straightened himself out after a dismal start, going 3-0 with a 3.05 ERA in his past three outings. The O's Opening Day starter pitched six scoreless innings against the Yankees on Sunday before giving up four runs in the seventh. All three wins have come with Javy Lopez behind the plate, a switch that Rodrigo Lopez credits with helping him turn things around and lower his ERA from 8.07 to 6.75. Lopez qualifies as an AL and mixed league sleeper going forward - he should post a 4.50 ERA and pick up eight or 10 wins the rest of the way.

The Orioles will catch a break this weekend by missing Minnesota ace Johan Santana, but they won't dodge the Twins hottest pitcher, 22-year-old left-hander Francisco Liriano. Liriano has struck out 47 batters in 38 1/3 innings this season and is 3-0 with a 0.56 ERA in three starts since joining the rotation last month. Tonight's starter, Toronto lefty Ted Lilly, is 2-0 with a 2.84 ERA in two starts against the Orioles this season.

This week's matchups

  • Monday - Blue Jays (Ted Lilly-L) at O's (Cabrera-R), 7:05 p.m.
  • Tuesday - Blue Jays (Ty Taubenheim-R) at O's (Bedard-L), 7:05 p.m.
  • Wednesday - Blue Jays (Casey Janssen-R) at O's (Benson-R), 7:05 p.m.
  • Thursday - Blue Jays (Roy Halladay-R) at O's (Loewen-L), 7:05 p.m.
  • Friday - O's (R. Lopez-R) at Twins (Brad Radke-R), 8:10 p.m.
  • Saturday - O's (Cabrera-R) at Twins (Carlos Silva-R), 7:10 p.m.
  • Sunday - O's (Bedard-L) at Twins (Francisco Liriano-L), 2:10 p.m.
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