Adam Loewen has heard all of the official proclamations and loose chatter regarding the Orioles this season, and he knows that he plays a prominent role in the team's quest to avoid its 10th straight losing season. Surprisingly, Loewen doesn't run from the media-driven and fan-fueled acclaim. Instead, he embraces it as the truth.
"It's pretty obvious that it's what people are talking about," Loewen said Wednesday about the team's youth-laden rotation. "We can see it when we watch others pitch and help each other with our pitching. It's exciting for us, but we just really want to get the season going and not worry about that right now."
Loewen, who made his big-league debut in 2006, would be well within his rights to deflect the topic altogether. After all, he's a second-year starter who has just 12 big-league decisions to his credit. Loewen is mature beyond his years, though, and knows that the expectations are a big part of why he's even on the team right now.
One year ago, Loewen's situation was different. The former first-round pick was barely pitching in the big-league camp, and he seemed to be a year away from being overmatched in the Majors. Loewen had yet to pitch at Double-A, but he had a clause in his contract that guaranteed he'd be in the big leagues by 2007 -- whether he was ready or not.
Loewen didn't want the O's to feel contractually obligated to promote him. He wanted to earn it, and he got the chance when Rodrigo Lopez and Bruce Chen struggled early. Then fellow prospect Hayden Penn came down with a case of appendicitis, which opened the door even further for Loewen. The rest, as they say, is recent history.
"My arm feels a lot stronger than it did last year," he said of his outlook this year in big-league camp. "I feel better mentally. I feel like this is a league I belong in when I'm out there. I'm not worried about pitching to contact or somebody hitting a home run off me. I feel like I can get guys out now."
And the numbers prove it. Loewen has thrown 13 innings this spring and has struck out more batters (18) than he's allowed to reach base via hit (nine) and walk (five). He's proven that he can thrive without his best stuff on multiple occasions and just generally looks more comfortable on the mound and in the clubhouse.
Manager Sam Perlozzo said that Loewen has answered a lot of questions with his spring statistics.
"He takes his work serious," Perlozzo said. "You cross your fingers, but I think the kid has gone about his business the way we'd like to see him go about it. The last thing we wanted to see was him struggle in the spring and then have a question mark. We feel like he's OK. He's going to be fine. He might be better than fine."
Wednesday's result, while not spectacular, underlines everything Perlozzo has seen in Loewen this spring. The southpaw didn't have his best curveball -- he called it "garbage" after the game -- but was able to improvise. Loewen gave up three hits and two walks, but three of the runners were erased from the basepaths.
The Cardinals only got one runner to scoring position, and Loewen managed to end that threat with a strikeout. All in all, it was another strong outing for the youngster, who teams with fellow southpaw Erik Bedard and right-hander Daniel Cabrera to comprise Baltimore's homegrown core to the rotation.
"I think this is right where I want to be," he said. "I didn't have my best outing today, but I think I was aggressive enough in the strike zone. I used my movement to my advantage and made them get themselves out. When I had chances to strike somebody out, I did that. I was really encouraged by today, but I can pitch better than that."
Loewen said he's learned that all four pitches aren't going to be working all that often. He also said that he only really needs three to be at his best, and when only two are working, that's when he needs to dig down deep. Loewen is pleased with his work this spring, but he knows that he has to repeat the process when the season starts.
"For the spring, [maybe], but it really counts in the regular season," he said. "I've got a lot more to prove. It's a pretty exciting year, I think. I'm more than capable of doing it, and I'm pretty excited to have the opportunity."
Loewen went 6-6 with a 5.37 ERA in 2006, setting the baseline for his performance this year. He has no problem with the expectations rising a notch or two, but he knows that he only has to please one tough critic.
"Either way, I'd want to do as well as I think I can," he said of the pressure. "It doesn't really matter what everybody's saying. It's really what I expect from myself, and I do expect a lot. That's why I really don't worry about it."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.