"He felt great -- that's the big thing for me," added pitching coach Rick Kranitz. "Any time you're throwing that many pitches in an inning -- he put up all of his pitch totals in two innings -- that's putting an unnecessary workload on him. I wouldn't say unnecessary, but I mean, you just don't need to be doing that in a short period of time."
Loewen had been scheduled to pitch last Friday, but the Orioles pushed him back as a precautionary measure after he noted that it was taking him longer than usual to warm up. Baltimore was extra careful because Loewen has had prior arm problems, making just six starts last season before being shut down with a stress fracture in his left elbow.
There were no signs of that or any ailment on Wednesday, but it was clear early that Loewen wasn't particularly comfortable. The left-hander threw first-pitch balls to seven of the first nine batters he faced and ran three-ball counts to three of the first six hitters. Loewen threw 38 pitches in the first inning alone, 21 of them going for balls.
St. Louis took the lead for good when Pujols, the third batter of the game, sent a homer hurtling over the fence in left-center field. Loewen gave up a single and then walked two straight batters, but he sandwiched two ground balls around a run-scoring walk to escape the threat. Loewen left the bases loaded in the first, escaping on a grounder by Cesar Izturis.
"I don't think there's anything wrong mechanically," said Loewen. "It's focus, it's rust, it's a lot of different things. I'm thinking the more I go out there, the better I'm going to get. I still feel that way -- I've just got to start doing it now."
"I think he's a lot closer than he thinks," said Kranitz, finding the silver lining. "While I'm watching the game, it sure looks like he is ready to get out of the inning and then it gets away from him. And then things snowballed on him today. Obviously, we've got to not throw that many pitches to get out of an inning. There's no question about that."
Loewen's second inning was cleaner and crisper, if not more aesthetically pleasing. The 23-year-old allowed a single to the first batter he faced, and one bunt later, he loaded the bases by hitting two consecutive batters. Former pitcher Rick Ankiel followed with a run-scoring single, and Loewen struck out Ryan Ludwick before calling it a day.
"It wasn't really frustrating, the first inning," Loewen said of his emotions. "The second inning, I started to get frustrated, because I thought I was going to make the adjustments, get the ball down. I hit Pujols and [Troy] Glaus back-to-back, and that wasn't a good situation to get into. Those two pitches totally screwed up my second inning."
"They ran the counts real deep against him and he obviously ran his pitch count up way too much early," said Baltimore manager Dave Trembley. "There's command and control, and his control was not very sharp."
The Orioles are now beginning to worry about getting Loewen ready for the season. Trembley said the plan is to get his starters up to around 90 pitches by the time the year begins, and Loewen said he's not particularly concerned that he hasn't gotten his best work done during his first four starts of the Grapefruit League season.
"I'd better come to pitch the next time out, so I can get my innings and be ready," he said. "A lot can be done in two weeks. I can probably get two or three bullpens in and probably two games in, so I should be on schedule."
Meanwhile, Kranitz said that he's liked everything he's seen from Loewen thus far. The veteran coach said that Loewen's stuff is good enough to get outs and that his intangibles give him an even better chance of finding success.
"I'll go to war with him any time. He's a tough kid," said Kranitz. "Whether he does well or not, he's going to go out there and give it everything he got. He's going to compete on every pitch. Those kinds of guys, you'll take any day."