The Orioles placed prized left-hander Adam Loewen on the 15-day disabled list yesterday, and I'm guessing everybody is thinking pretty much the same thing I am right now:
"I knew there had to be something physically wrong with him."
We all suspected it, and there was plenty of evidence, but the kid is a gamer and he told us he was OK and we believed him instead of our eyes. There wasn't much else to do.
His velocity was OK, so it was easy enough to chalk up his control problems to the normal post-injury process during which the injured appendage gets gradually stronger and the injured pitcher gradually regains confidence in his ability to do the same things he did before he got hurt. That seemed logical, but only because no one really wanted to think about the scarier possibilities.
Some pitchers come back better than new after serious arm surgery. Some come back and trade the soreness in the repaired area for new soreness somewhere else. That's apparently what has happened since Loewen had a screw inserted in his left elbow to repair a stress fracture in June. He had a bout with shoulder soreness in spring training and went on the DL after Thursday night's abbreviated start with inflammation in his left forearm.
"There's been a couple of things that have bothered me before and are starting to go away," he told reporters after the game in Seattle. "When that starts to happen and something else comes up, I maybe overcompensated for something and that's why I'm getting all these different types of pains. I really don't think it's anything serious, but it would be nice to step on the mound and feel 100 percent."
Instead, he was scheduled to return to Baltimore this weekend to find out when that might happen and temporarily ceded his place in the rotation to probably either recent recall Jim Johnson or minor league prospect Garrett Olson.
Hopefully, it's just a mild injury compensation situation, because Loewen represents a pretty important piece of the Orioles' rebuilding program. He was the fourth overall pick in the 2002 draft and was just beginning to blossom as a major league pitcher when the hairline fracture was detected in his elbow last season.
The other end of the spectrum is too depressing to ponder. This is a fine young guy who has worked long and hard to put himself in position to be a solid major league starting pitcher. The last thing he wants to do is spend his career in a Mark Prior-like state of perpetual injury rehab ... or worse.
The only good news right now is that the Orioles finally have enough pitching depth to replace him and probably will be better off over the short term with Loewen on the shelf. He struggled with his control from the start of spring training and ended the exhibition season leading the major leagues in walks.
Things did not get substantially better during the early weeks of the regular season, and Thursday night's brief outing (2 2/3 innings, five earned runs) raised his ERA to 7.85. If he had not revealed the soreness, the Orioles might soon have had to find some way to get him out of the rotation - both for his own good and that of the team.
Loewen insisted right up until Thursday that he felt OK and wasn't particularly frustrated by his lack of command. He put on a brave face for weeks but couldn't hide his disappointment and apprehension when he talked to Orioles beat reporters after the game. By one account, he appeared distraught.
Here's hoping the Orioles' medical staff determines he's simply battling a forearm strain and will be as good as new after a few weeks of rest and physical therapy. Anything else would be a huge setback for a young Orioles pitching staff that is just starting to take shape.
This is the first piece of real bad news to hit the club in an otherwise upbeat opening month of the season. Loewen's struggles have been offset to a large degree by the surprising resurgence of Daniel Cabrera, but that won't be much consolation if the left-hander is lost for an extended period.
It's too early to tell about that, but not too early to wonder with so much at stake.
Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on most Saturdays and Sundays.