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10/03/06 1:59 PM ET

Loaiza goes for Athletics in Game 2

Righty rebounded from poor April to help A's to playoffs

OAKLAND -- Esteban Loaiza has a theory why he was so terrible in April.

He slept wrong.

"My injuries came after the World Classic back in Spring Training," Loaiza said. "I think I slept wrong and woke up the next day kind of hurting a little bit. I went and did my regular routine, thought it was going to go away, and then the season started and it was my left side, it wasn't the right side."

Still, Loaiza, who starts Game 2 of the American League Division Series on Wednesday against the Twins, is a right-handed pitcher, and it was evident something was wrong with the guy that the Athletics signed to a three-year, $21 million contract.

On April 23, A's manager Ken Macha watched Loaiza throw a pitch against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and noticed that the radar gun clocked it at 79 mph.

"What was that?" Macha asked pitching coach Curt Young.

"That was a fastball," Young said.

"Oh my goodness," Macha said.

"Don't worry," Young told the manager. "He will get through three, I think, because he's throwing below hitting speed."

Loaiza lasted 3 2/3 innings, giving up three runs on seven hits. He allowed five runs in one inning in his next start against the Kansas City Royals but had it erased from his record when the game was rained out in the third inning. He was still 0-3 with an 8.35 ERA.

His next stop was on the disabled list with a strained trapezius muscle in the back of his left shoulder.

"We had to get him out of the rotation, put him on the DL and get him straightened out," Macha said. "That's exactly what happened."

Loaiza came back on June 8 and from that point on, he was the pitcher the Athletics expected. In 22 starts, he was 11-6 with a 4.47 ERA.

He even threw a complete game, throwing 97 pitches in a 10-4 victory over the San Francisco Giants on June 25. He had gone 61 straight starts without one.

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"We knew that he is a very competitive pitcher," Macha said. "As he was going through his rehab, we went to Chicago and talked to [White Sox] pitching coach Don Cooper and one of the things he said, one thing that E-Lo likes to do is compete.

"That's exactly what he did for us. He was one of the guys who stepped up and propelled us through August and had a great August and got us the lead we needed going into September."

Loaiza was the American League Pitcher of the Month in August after going 4-0 with a 1.48 ERA.

"I'm getting ahead of the hitters and getting a lot of people out," Loaiza said. "I am strong, using my fastball, using my [cut fastball], using my changeup and sinker, working both locations on both sides of the plate with righties and lefties and trying to get out there and throw first-pitch strikes and get ahead in the count."

This will be the second playoff start of his career. He pitched Game 3 for the Rangers in a 1999 Division Series against the Yankees and gave up a three-run home run to Darryl Strawberry in the first inning. He shut out the Yankees over the next six innings but the Rangers were eliminated with a 3-0 loss.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.