FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. -- The names always come at Orioles pitching coach Leo Mazzone in rapid succession, and they don't have to be recited in full. Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz is enough. He practically hears them in his sleep.
Since Mazzone reported to camp last month, those names usually have been followed by three others that one day could leave his ears ringing: Bedard, Cabrera and Loewen.
The comparison would be deemed too absurd except that it's spring training, when unbridled optimism and heightened expectations rule the day. All reason is shown the door.
"No, no," Mazzone said yesterday, raising his hands and leaning to one side in the Orioles' dugout, a smile creasing his face. "If we're still here 10 years from now and it's the same group, then yeah."
Mazzone spent 15 1/2 seasons guiding and mentoring the Atlanta Braves' staff. No one is more familiar with Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, and their combined 816 victories and seven Cy Young awards.
He isn't close to putting Orioles starters Erik Bedard, Daniel Cabrera and Adam Loewen in the same class, not with so much learning still to be done. But they've clearly been the feel-good, homegrown story of spring training.
"I can't curb my enthusiasm," Mazzone said. "I'm very excited about the group and the possibilities of some achievements that we can have. I just want to get them out of here healthy. That's the bottom line."
There's nothing sickly about their numbers.
Bedard, Cabrera and Loewen have combined for 12 scoreless innings. They've allowed four hits, walked one and struck out 17.
"They make it look too easy," said yesterday's starter, Jaret Wright, who was 21 when he started for the Cleveland Indians in the 1997 World Series."These guys, when they're out there pitching, the stuff they've got, it looks easy for them. And that's great."
Most national publications and prognosticators point to the continued development of the three young pitchers as key to the Orioles' success in 2007. Bedard, 28, won 15 games last season and soon will be named Opening Day starter. But Cabrera, 25, spent 25 days at Triple-A Ottawa last season because of control issues, and Loewen, 22, has appeared in only 22 major league games.
"I don't think anybody's really putting anything on them," Mazzone said."The most impressive thing for me this spring has been the way they've gone about their business. They're going about their business in a very professional manner. They're always at the right place, they're always doing their work. Everything is very consistent as far as what they're doing, which I think translates into how you work on the mound. They have a plan, they have a system in place, and now it's a matter of executing on a consistent basis.
"It's almost like they feel like they belong. They're being very professional, very organized, enjoying themselves, but at the same token, doing all the work that's required to perform well."
The view is especially pleasing to Mazzone, considering that he had it blocked last spring by their departures for the World Baseball Classic. What he sees now are three pitchers who appear to have a plan.
"Their mechanics are solid," he said. "You're not tinkering around a whole lot. You're just tweaking a little or giving a tip here and there, rather than having a reclamation project. Then you let them go out and express themselves. These are the things that go into a pitcher starting to come into his own.
"This spring training, for me, feels like it did when I went to Orlando [with the Braves] all those years. You're getting the staff together, you're getting organized, you have a good plan for your starters and your relievers. It's been very enjoyable to watch and very enjoyable to be able to deal with individuals on an individual basis and get organized to produce a winning product."
Bedard has allowed one hit in five innings, with no walks and six strikeouts. Once considered the ace by default, he's now earning the distinction.
"Bedard's one of the best left-handers in the major leagues, as far as I'm concerned," Mazzone said. "He doesn't need another pitch. His mechanics are solid. He has a full package of above-average pitches. So you rock and roll with him."
His vision corrected by laser surgery and his mechanics more sound, Cabrera has permitted two hits in five innings, with no walks and six strikeouts.
Loewen, today's starter against the St. Louis Cardinals, has allowed one hit and a walk in two innings, with five strikeouts.
"In Adam's case, I think he's showing at a young age that he can make some adjustments during the course of the game. His side sessions are very consistent now, as far as being organized," Mazzone said.
"Daniel has his power fastball, his moving fastball, down-action breaking ball and he's filtering in a straight change now that he has a chance to do in spring training and see what kind of results he gets with it."
It's becoming impossible to separate the three pitchers in any conversation.
Just as it used to be in Atlanta.
Perhaps one day, the comparisons will be warranted.
"Certainly, the talent is there," Mazzone said. "They're part of something that could become real good."