Elbow Recovered, Loewen Holds It Together

Young Left-Hander Set to Face Florida In Exhibition Opener

Adam Loewen is penciled in for 35 pitches or two full innings against the Marlins today, according to Orioles Manager Dave Trembley.
Adam Loewen is penciled in for 35 pitches or two full innings against the Marlins today, according to Orioles Manager Dave Trembley. (By Rob Carr -- Associated Press)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 28, 2008; Page E07

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., Feb. 27 -- Doctors inserted a screw into Adam Loewen's left arm just eight months ago, though he doesn't feel it. He's told it occupies a 4 1/2 -inch space in the center of a bone in his arm and is made of titanium. Yet it doesn't set off metal detectors, doesn't hinder his pitching motion, doesn't cause pain.

Aside from a few X-rays that confirm its presence, it's as if the screw in Loewen's arm doesn't exist at all.

This was his goal when he started his rehabilitation program following surgery last June. On Thursday, Loewen will take the next major step toward resuming a promising career that was put on hold by a stress fracture in his elbow when he faces Florida Marlins right-hander Sergio Mitre in the Baltimore Orioles' Grapefruit League season opener.

"I think everybody's going to see the work I put in this year to get my arm back and ready to go," he said. "I see myself learning from every outing and really solidifying my spot in the rotation.

"Right now, I just want to slide kind of quietly into the rotation and do my part every five days."

The talented 23-year-old lefty has easily cleared each step in a series of physical prerequisites set by Manager Dave Trembley and pitching coach Rick Kranitz, offering plenty of evidence that he has recovered from the injury that robbed him of almost an entire season.

"I don't there's any question that he's healthy," said Trembley, who has penciled Loewen in for 35 pitches or two full innings against the Marlins. "I think it will just be nice to get him to pitch."

Indeed, when Loewen takes the mound at Fort Lauderdale Stadium on Thursday afternoon, it will be a return to the exact spot where he remembers throwing his last pain-free pitch.

"I don't think this is an injury where I have to take it slow or anything like, or I have to pace myself," Loewen said. "I'm 100 percent healthy. I feel great."

Before the injury, Loewen had shown signs of growing into the dominant pitcher the Orioles envisioned when they selected him fourth overall in the 2002 draft.

After starting the 2006 season in Class AA, Loewen went 6-6 with a 5.37 ERA while spending the second half of the season in Baltimore, his first taste of the major leagues. Last spring, Loewen appeared to have built on his experience, pitching 22 innings in six starts while racking up a 1.64 ERA, the second lowest in the Grapefruit League.

But in one of the last days of his sensational spring, Loewen felt a small pain in his elbow, pain that intensified with each regular season start. Even though Loewen looked comfortable as a major leaguer, he averaged just five innings per appearance, signaling a possible problem.

"I was pretty much pitching through the pain until I couldn't do it anymore," Loewen said. "It hindered what I was doing, so in that regard I could have done better, though I was doing well already."

With the pain in his elbow unbearable, Loewen left a May 1 start against the Detroit Tigers after five innings. Three days later, doctors discovered a stress fracture in his left elbow, and Loewen was put on the disabled list. After just six starts -- finishing with a 2-0 record and 3.56 ERA -- Loewen underwent season-ending surgery June 14.

"It was tough but I think I handled it well," Loewen said. "It's something that most pitchers have to go through. It was tough at the beginning, but I accepted it eventually. I dealt with it well, and I rebounded well."

Though months had passed since he threw to live batters, Loewen cruised through his drills early this spring training. An impressive showing in a recent simulated game convinced Trembley that Loewen was ready to move forward.

"With the sense of anticipation that Adam has himself, the sooner we can get him out there the better," Trembley said.

Since the first day of camp, Trembley said Loewen has hardly been able to hide his eagerness to return -- perhaps the only sign the pitcher has shown of the screw in his arm.

"I really want to be ready by Opening Day and I really want to make my mark this year," Loewen said. "I think it's a big year for me, and there's no reason why I can't have success."

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