11/12/10 6:51 PM EST
Jays' Loewen sees success in Arizona
Former Major League pitcher continuing comeback in AFL
By Danny Wild / MLB.com
A former first-round pick, Loewen made the Arizona Fall League All-Prospect Team -- in 2005. He's 26 now and essentially looking to make a second Major League debut.
"I just need to keep making progress from the previous year and the rest tends take care of itself," he said. "It's out of my hands."
The improvement, especially of late, is hard to miss. Loewen spent parts of three seasons in the Majors in Baltimore's starting rotation. The No. 4 overall pick in the 2002 Draft, he went up against Randy Johnson, Tom Glavine and Roy Halladay in his first month in the Majors. An arm injury ended his pitching career in 2008, but he's determined to work his way back as a hitter.
Batting .342 this fall, the first baseman doubled twice, walked, had two RBIs and helped fuel a nine-run first-inning rally Friday as the Peoria Javelinas crushed the Surprise Rafters, 10-3.
"I think we do a good job of staying focused, so we're putting up runs and our pitchers are putting up some shutout innings," he said. "We're definitely staying sharp in the field and at the plate."
Loewen threw his final pitch on July 6, 2008 in a relief appearance against Texas. After starring for Canada in the 2006 World Baseball Classic, he was forced to face a painful reality: his pitching career was over following arm pain and control issues.
Loewen said he'd try to stay in the game -- as a hitter. The Orioles were supportive but released him with hopes of re-signing him to a Minor League contract as a first baseman. He ended up inking a deal with Toronto and has spent the last two years learning his way around the plate in the Minors.
"Wherever they put you, you put your work in and things take care of themselves," he said. "I just need to keep improving."
Loewen, an Eastern League All-Star this summer with Double-A New Hampshire, has driven in 14 runs in his last nine games. He doesn't play every day, but he's been a big contributor for the first-place Javelinas (17-8).
He batted twice in the big first inning, drawing a walk and scoring on an RBI single by Padres prospect Nate Tenbrink before lining a two-out double to plate Juan Carlos Linares (Red Sox).
"I was looking for a fastball. We batted around and I'd worked the count full, was just looking for something I could drive and get someone in," Loewen said. "And that's what guys were doing all inning. Everyone had the same at-bat as I did."
He knocked home former Mariners first-rounder Dustin Ackley with another double in the fourth.
"I'd just taken a changeup high and was looking to get a heater in my zone," he said. "I got it and was trying to put it in the hole or drive it in the gap."
Loewen, however, struck out in his final two plate appearances. He struggled with fanning in 2010, striking 142 times in 113 games.
"I kind of struggled in the second half," he said. "So to come out here against the best pitchers and hitters in the Minors and to really play well, it's really something good. I've made a couple adjustments in the last few months and everything is finally coming around."
Loewen finished the season with a .246 average, 13 homers, 70 RBIs and 17 steals.
"Overall, I was satisfied, but I think the second half I really struggled a lot," he said. "It was another learning experience, like the year before. I was grinding through it and trying to get better."
The Jays sent Loewen to the AFL last year and he hit .200 in 19 games for Phoenix, but he's clearly a new player this time around. He joined Peoria after playing for Team Canada in the Pan-Am Qualifying Tournament in Puerto Rico.
"I was mentally fatigued, so being on the taxi squad helped me out," he said. "I was still getting reps in between games, but not playing every day kind of helped me. It helped me get my focus back."
The Vancouver native is batting .348 with runners on base, .346 against right-handers and has a pair of steals.
"We're playing with a bunch of loose guys and that's helped as well," he said. "There's no pressure. We go out and play and we're a good team, so that always helps."
Despite a wealth of Major League service time, Loewen said he's not the veteran of the clubhouse.
"I think we're all close enough in age that they don't view me like that," he said. "It's not like that, I think everybody gets along well. It's not who's older, everyone wants to get better and play well."
NOTES: Indians prospect Jason Kipnis hit leadoff for Peoria and knocked in two runs. ... Roberto Perez (Indians) went 2-for-4 with two RBIs. ... Scott Barnes (Indians) started and picked up his third win, allowing a run on two hits over three innings. ... Tigers right-hander Brooks Brown was hammered in the first, charged with six runs on four hits and two walks while retiring two batters. ... Eric Hosmer (Royals), Hunter Morris (Brewers) and Derrick Robinson (Royals) drove in runs for the Rafters.
Danny Wild is an editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.