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Former pitcher Loewen enjoying challenge of hitting with Jays

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The Canadian Press
3/22/2011 4:48:46 PM
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DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Adam Loewen has always loved to hit.

And the 26-year-old from Surrey, B.C., is getting the chance to be a hitter with the Toronto Blue Jays' organization after injuries ended his major league pitching career with the Baltimore Orioles.

He is entering his third season as an outfielder and the progress is evident.

"I'm glad I could make the change," he said.

He will likely open the season at triple-A Las Vegas after spending last year at double-A New Hampshire, where he hit .246 with 13 homers, 70 runs-batted in and a .351 on-base percentage.

"The first two years I learned a lot," he said. "This is the first year where I have some pretty high expectations of what I want to accomplish and I'm really pleased with where my swing is at and my defence.

"I feel like I'm a well-rounded player right now. Now it's just a question of am I going to go out and be consistent?"

Toronto manager John Farrell has been impressed with the six-foot-six, 222-pound Loewen's strength, athleticism and size.

"Then you watch him on the basepaths and you watch him in the outfield, obviously the arm strength is there," Farrell said. "He has swung the bat very well.

"He has put up good at-bats, has a good idea of the strike zone. He's been impressive. He's going to get a few more opportunities before we break camp."

Loewen became the highest Canadian taken in baseball's draft when Baltimore took him fourth overall in June 2002. But he didn't sign until May 26, 2003.

He reached the majors in 2006 but gave up pitching in July 2008 after suffering a second stress fracture in his left elbow. He decided to embark on a comeback as an outfielder despite not having hit on a regular basis since 2003 when he was at Chipola Junior College.

As a major-league pitcher, the left-hander was 8-8 with a 5.38 earned-run average in 35 games, including 29 starts. He posted a 21-19 record in the minors with a 3.61 ERA in 78 games, 67 starts.

When Loewen gave up pitching, the Orioles let him go with the intention of re-signing him to a minor-league deal. Toronto jumped in and signed him instead.

Loewen's first season in Toronto's system was 2009 when he hit .236 with four homers and 31 RBIs in 103 games at advanced-A Dunedin. But his on-base percentage was .340.

The biggest challenge for Loewen was learning his swing then being able to repeat it. It is something he continued to work on during the off-season.

"Last year I had a good swing in certain parts of the season but it would disappear as soon as it came," he said. "So now I feel like I can go in the cage and work on things and get it right before the game starts."

The process continues to be a matter of constant repetition for him as Loewen tries to make up for lost time as a hitter.

"It's at-bats and swings in the cage, taking countless amounts of swings and just working my butt off just to catch up, playing winter ball and doing as much as I can to catch up and be ready," he said. "I took six years off (hitting) so it took a while to get back into it.

"When I was 19, I didn't have a very good swing so I was pretty much starting from scratch either way whether I started then or now."

During the off-season, Loewen played 14 games in the Arizona Fall League, hitting .333 with five homers and 19 RBIs. Then he went to the Dominican Winter League for nine games, hitting .355 with two homers with seven RBIs.

Loewen has been able to work with Justin Mashore, a hitting instructor in the Blue Jays organization, during the off-season.

"Whenever I want he'll come and throw to me and work with me in the off-season," Loewen said. "We both live in the Phoenix area.

"It's easy to get work done when we have a coaching staff like we do."

He also worked out with Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau, a native of New Westminster, B.C.

"And he's the guy I really want to play close attention to, do what he does, his work habits, and try to take everything in and learn as much as I can," Loewen said.

During his stint in the Dominican Republic, Loewen played first base.

"It was good, it was something different," he said. "It's always good to keep flexible because you never know when there's going to be an injury or the manager likes to shuffle the lineup around so it's a good thing to have in my back pocket."

Playing the outfield wasn't as difficult of an adjustment for Loewen as hitting has been.

"That was the thing that came the quickest to me I think," he said. "My first year I was pretty good defensively and last year from start to finish, I felt like I played really good, right field and left.

"That was a little bit more natural than anything else. Those long throws, you know, your arm gets a little more extended than it does from the mound so it's a little easier to make (the ball) go straight. It takes me a while to build my arm strength up because I take precaution with my elbow."

Loewen finds minor-league instructor Rich Miller a big help in learning to play the outfield.

"He specializes in that and he's really particular and he really talks about the things you would never even think of," he said. "Once you get to a certain point and think what else is there, he's the guy you go to when you want to find out."

Loewen doesn't use his pitching past as a means to figure out what the person on the mound he's facing might be thinking.

"The dangerous part of that is when you're thinking along with the pitcher you're kind of turning into a guess hitter," he said. "And the best hitters in baseball don't really go up there and guess, they can sit on the fastball and react to whatever is thrown up there."

Adam Loewen (Photo: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
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