Sinking action

The Baltimore Sun

Orioles pitcher Adam Loewen had a magnetic resonance imaging on his left elbow after leaving his most recent start in the third inning because of persistent soreness. He also had a CT scan. And while the Orioles prepared to take batting practice Tuesday, Loewen underwent a bone scan on the same arm that came back clear.

Are there any more tests out there? Just wait until tomorrow, when the Orioles purchase a home pregnancy kit. If the stick turns blue, Loewen won't return to the rotation for nine months.

The Orioles made Loewen the fourth overall pick in the 2002 draft, and almost immediately he was touted as a Canadian version of Sandy Koufax -- which means he can't pitch during the Stanley Cup playoffs. They gave him a major league contract, a risky perk that wasn't part of catcher Matt Wieters' deal when the Orioles took him with the fifth pick last year. But that was considered a non-negotiable means of signing Loewen before the deadline.

If Loewen is going to improve his fastball command and start challenging for Cy Young Awards, it'll happen because of the innings he accumulates here. But he has to stay healthy first, and that's becoming an issue that brings sympathy pangs from anyone who knows him.

Loewen is a great kid -- and he still qualifies as a kid in baseball parlance at age 24 -- who is polite, personable and wants so badly to pitch. But he needed surgery in June, after only six starts, to repair a fracture in his left elbow. And a sore shoulder in spring training raised enough concerns that the Orioles skipped his turn once and reduced his workload.

He was billed as a can't-miss prospect six years ago, but "the injury changes everything," a scout from outside the organization said.

"Last year, you could have argued that he was as good as Erik Bedard. Both were throwing extremely well, top-of-the-rotation guys. I thought Loewen was really locking in. And if you had had your choice, you would have taken Loewen based on a couple things: age, his contract, his size. No question.

"I've seen him come along through the system. He's a great athlete, can swing the bat, all those kinds of things. He has real good feel for pitching. He's a competitor, and his stuff is really, really good. Plus stuff across the board. His breaking ball is exceptional, very good sink on his fastball, he was locating. But you can throw all that out the window now."

If there's one sound reason to be optimistic about Loewen's future, it's how his velocity hasn't dropped with the screw in his elbow. He was still hitting 92, 93 mph earlier this year. If he was stuck in the low or mid-80s, the hand-wringing in the warehouse would have taken off layers of skin.

"There's always a situation when an athlete comes off an injury where he's tentative, but I don't really see that with him," the scout said. "I just think he's out of whack and maybe the situation with his elbow has caused him to change his mechanics, as far as his arm angle. Until he gets his mechanics and rhythm and locks in, he's still struggling to find where he was. But I believe it's still there. I've seen the velocity and I've seen flashes of all his stuff. It's just very inconsistent."

And now it's on the shelf, but the Orioles can't regret their selection in 2002. It's way too early to go there. Loewen has a world of talent. Here's hoping he obtains the luck to go with it.

"I just saw a number of kids the last couple weeks who were given serious money, millions of dollars," the scout said, "and where he was drafted and the money they gave him is definitely, 100 percent in line. It wasn't a reach. He fit there. He was worth the money. He's that top-of-the-rotation, legit guy. And my feeling is he'll come back and be OK."

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