Loewen abandons pitching for hitting
Former first-round pick hoping to avoid further arm woes
BALTIMORE -- One door closed and another one opened for Adam Loewen on Saturday, when the former first-round pick announced the end of his pitching career and the resumption of his offensive ambitions. The southpaw's elbow has given out in each of the last two seasons, and he's decided to step off the mound and become a position player again.
Loewen, who had surgery to repair a stress fracture last summer and experienced the same injury all over again this season, has consulted with team physician Jon Wilckens and noted orthopedic specialist James Andrews on the best path of recovery, and he said Saturday that coming back as a hitter could help him avoid another operation entirely.
"They believe that the only reason that my arm feels the way it does is strictly from throwing off the mound at a high intensity," he said. "So if I was playing first base or outfield or just having time in between throws, not throwing 90-93 off a mound, then my arm's going to be fine. It's not going to bother me swinging the bat, and I won't have to have surgery.
"If I did choose the other path of pitching, it would be a long road with no clear ending, so this is not a simple decision, but it's right there in front of me and it was easy to make for me."
Loewen, the fourth overall pick in the 2002 First-Year Player Draft, has already been through the rehabilitation process. The left-hander underwent an operation last summer that placed a pin in his elbow, but he never really grew comfortable with it after the surgery. Facing the same kind of recovery all over again, Loewen opted to switch paths.
"It was devastating news," he said of learning that he'd re-fractured his pitching elbow. "But I've always had a backup plan, so I'm sure I didn't take it as hard as anybody else would. And as much as I love pitching and love playing for the Orioles, I still have a chance to do that. It's going to be a long and tough road, but I did it one time, hopefully I can do it again. I know what to expect and I think I'm mature enough where I can do this and I'm still young enough to where I can do this."
"The good news," added Andy MacPhail, the team's president of baseball operations, "is that we have a player here that, as an amateur, [was] very much a hitting prospect as well, and he has assured me that he can still hit and wants to hit. So the club is prepared to embark on that path with him, and once this season is over, we will start career No. 2 for Adam Loewen, which will be in the outfield somewhere in the Baltimore Orioles system, provided we can sort through a number of obstacles and technicalities that we have to agree upon to sort of get this career re-started."
MacPhail was referring to a bunch of contractual language that will have to be figured out for Loewen to remain in the organization. The Orioles signed the phenom to a Major League contract out of the Draft, and he's already exhausted all his options. Now, the two sides need to figure out a way to get him back in the Minors without switching organizations.
"Eventually, you're going to have to sever that existing contract and do a new one," said MacPhail. "Those are all things that create obstacles that [agent Scott Sanderson] and their side was well aware of going into this as we were. We just felt like, 'We're with you and we think this is a good idea. Let's sort of figure out a timetable and let's figure out up front what the obstacles are so we don't get to a certain part of the road and we all go, 'Oh my gosh, we didn't know this.'"
Both Loewen and MacPhail repeatedly referenced Rick Ankiel, who endured a similar odyssey before finding success as an outfielder with the Cardinals. But Loewen, whose pitching career will apparently end with an 8-8 record and a 5.38 ERA, knows that it will be a huge adjustment and has actually said that he always liked hitting more than he did pitching.
"In a perfect world, I would've done both," he said. "But I'm 6-6 and I throw left-handed, so my path was chosen for me. I didn't have a choice. I probably would've done both, and my second choice would probably have been to hit, so I just love to do both. I'm always going to be a pitcher, there's no doubt about that. I love to do it [and] I've been doing it ever since I was nine years old, so it's going to be tough to let it go. But God has a special plan for me and I'm going to be faithful and follow it."
Loewen, who batted .353 in his lone season at Chipola Junior College, said that he knows it will be hard to overcome six years spent without swinging the bat. But he also knows that it's virtually his only choice. And MacPhail said that the Orioles aren't really worried about his trajectory as much as they are allowing him to take advantage of his talent.
"We talked about starting in the Instructional League," he said, "then, as you guys often get tired of me saying, the decisions after that become self-evident after he plays. Maybe he's ready for something very fast and maybe he does something on a slower track and maybe he needs more time. Those things become more evident as we approach them, but there is no sense in speculating now other than that we think the Instructional League is probably the right first step."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.