Adam Loewen returned to the big leagues last night and tossed two scoreless innings. The 6' 5", 24-year old Loewen has continuously struggled with injuries in his young career, and as also been hurt by the initial contract he signed with the club back in 2003. After being drafted in 2002, Loewen held out until the last minute (literally) and signed just a week before the 2003 draft. To get a deal done, the O's gave Loewen--a 19-year old pitcher with one year of junior college experience--a Major League contract. Since he received that Major League deal, he had to be added to the 40-man roster and optioned to the minors, meaning he only had four seasons of development before he need be on the 25-man roster or the Orioles would be forced to expose Loewen to waivers.
2003, Option Year 1: 7 starts in short-season Aberdeen. He pitched great but only threw 23 innings, striking out 25 and walking just 9.
2004, Option Year 2: 21 starts (plus one relief appearance), of which 19 were made in low-A Delmarva. He pitched a total of 93 innings, striking out 85 (good), walking 67 (bad), and allowing 84 hits.
2005, Option Year 3: 27 starts (plus one relief appearance) at high-A Frederick. Healthy the entire season, he was stretched to 142 innings, maintained his high strikeout rate (9.25 K/9 IP) and improved his walk rate marginally (from 6.48 BB/9 IP in 2004 to 5.45 BB/9 IP in 2005).
2006, Option Year 4: 8 starts (plus one relief appearance) at AA Bowie, 3 starts at AAA Ottawa. He combined to throw 71 innings, strike out 76 and walk just 29 (3.43 BB/9 IP), showing that, when healthy, he very much had the talent to be a top of the rotation starter.
All of which is a typical progression for a young pitcher learning to command his pitches. Had he not received that Major League contract, Loewen likely would have begun 2006 in Bowie. Instead, at age 22 and with just 329 minor league innings and two full seasons of mediocre results under his belt, the Orioles were forced to bring him to Baltimore. Predictably, he struggled with his command, walking 62 in just 112.1 IP. But he kept that high strikeout rate (7.85 K/9 IP).
In 2007, Loewen again struggled with his command, walking 26 in just 30.1 IP before suffering a season ending stress fracture in his pitching arm. Attempting to come back this season, Loewen is was no better at throwing strikes; he walked 15 in just 18.1 2008 innings before hitting the DL. On his rehab assignment, he pitched in nine different games, totaling 9.2 IP and he walked just two. In his first appearance since returning to Baltimore, he walked just one last night.
Because great things were expected of Loewen, and it seems as if he's been around for a very long time, many fans have grown impatient. It's important to remember that Loewen is just 24, and has missed virtually all of the past two seasons with injuries. Over his first five professional seasons, Loewen made very real progress in learning to command his pitches against progressively better competition. Since then, however, he hasn't pitched enough or been healthy enough to draw any conclusions. The Orioles need to be extra-careful with Loewen this season and hope that the arm problems that have plagued him in his early career can be fixed. If he can get on the mound with regularity, I'm convinced the good results will come.
UPDATE: MLB.com reports Adam Loewen is feeling good after last night's outing.