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Getting comfortable

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- He threw his 25th pitch and then quickly campaigned minor league pitching instructor Dave Schmidt for permission to throw a couple of more. His request was denied, so left-hander Adam Loewen walked slowly off the mound before settling into the first row of bleachers.

After having this feeling wrested away from him for nearly 10 months, Loewen wanted to cherish the moment. He faced hitters at the Orioles' workout yesterday, another important step in his recovery from surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left elbow. Loewen, 23, hadn't pitched with anybody in the batter's box since May 1, the night his 2007 season came to an abrupt end.

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"It was a big deal to get back on the mound and face hitters," Loewen said. "It feels good to get through it and feel good. I felt really comfortable, and that was the biggest thing."

Loewen threw all of his pitches during the session, communicating regularly with Schmidt, who was stationed behind the mound. Hitters rotated into the batter's box, but rarely swung at Loewen's offerings. The purpose of the exercise was for the starting pitcher to get comfortable again throwing to actual hitters. In Loewen's case, the session was a big success.

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"It was exciting to see Loewen throw and to see how comfortable he looked on the mound and the way he finished his delivery and pitches," manager Dave Trembley said. "He looked very good. I saw him throw a couple of very good breaking pitches. Loose arm, nice delivery. And he walked off the mound with a smile on his face. It was a big day for him."

The Orioles' rotation remains unsettled largely because of the trade of ace Erik Bedard, so Loewen's work over the next five weeks and his ability to head north healthy is one of the team's biggest spring issues. Loewen, the club's No. 1 pick (fourth overall) in the 2002 draft, appeared headed for a breakout season last year, posting a dominant spring and going 2-0 with a 3.20 ERA in his first five starts. But he was forced to leave his sixth start against the Detroit Tigers after five innings because of elbow pain that was later diagnosed as a stress fracture.

He initially tried to rehabilitate the injury, but he then decided to have season-ending surgery June 14. A screw was inserted to allow the bone to heal faster, and Loewen wasn't cleared to resume baseball activities until September.

"The next couple of weeks [after surgery] were really tough," Loewen said. "Looking back on it, it's definitely something that I had to go through. Almost every pitcher has to go through some type of surgery or long-term injury. It's something that is normal, and it was something that I had to deal with.

"It was probably a month after the surgery when I had my full range of motion. I felt like I wasn't going anywhere, and I started to make some really good strides after that first month. And it really progressed quickly from there. All I had to do was strengthen my shoulder and make sure my elbow was good."

When Loewen first started throwing in mid-December, he felt some tightness in his arm. But that has gone away to the point where he said it feels like he never had surgery. He has been on the same schedule this spring as the rest of the pitchers.

"I've seen enough of the X-rays to know that it's healthy," Loewen said. "I was cleared to do whatever I needed to do in September. That's a long time ago. I was pain-free in my elbow from Day One when I started throwing. Even the way I feel on the mound, there's no doubt in my mind that I'm 100 percent healthy. I'm ready to go pretty much. I feel I could get back in there and pick up where I left off. And maybe I've even improved a little bit by getting the chance to sit there and watch the games and learn stuff."

That would be huge for a team that is rebuilding around its young arms. Assuming he stays healthy and has a solid spring, Loewen will likely anchor the second or third spot in the rotation.

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"It doesn't look like he missed a beat," first-year pitching coach Rick Kranitz said after watching Loewen throw yesterday. "I look at the ease of his of his delivery, how the ball is coming out of his hand. It looks real good. I'm very happy for him. ... He's what you look for in a pitcher -- a big left-hander with that kind of size and that kind of stuff. When you are trying to set and build your organization, he's at the top of your list."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com


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