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04/22/07 2:49 PM ET

Notes: Southpaw Loewen walking tall

Youngster leads AL in free passes, but has done well overall

BALTIMORE -- Forget about the double-play balls and the well-timed strikeouts. According to pitching coach Leo Mazzone, those are only the results that indicate how well Baltimore starter Adam Loewen has pitched.

Mazzone said Sunday that the reason for Loewen's success thus far is his ability to change speeds and keep hitters off-balance. The southpaw has gotten better at mixing his four-seam and two-seam fastballs -- which are separated from each other by movement and a few miles per hour -- with his curveball and circle change.

The final product is a less predictable pitcher, and Mazzone said he's not concerned with the league-leading walk total (19) through Loewen's first four starts. In fact, Mazzone said the walks indicate that Loewen isn't giving in and throwing a cookie over the plate just to avoid a free pass. Against teams like Toronto, that's a winning strategy.

"That's how you survive a game like that," said Mazzone, referring to Loewen's seven-walk performance in Saturday night's 5-2 win over the Blue Jays. "If you pitch straight power, you'll get clobbered."

Mazzone said that Loewen is more organized than before and more willing to use his entire arsenal, but the 23-year-old said he doesn't really feel like he's pitching much differently. The former first-round pick did allow that he's used his changeup a little more often than in seasons past, which could account for the stylistic changes Mazzone noted.

"Every time out, it gets to be a bigger and bigger part," he said. "I never really threw it in college or high school. I kind of changed my grip as I went along, and last year was the first year that I actually had the same grip for a long time."

Now, Loewen is comfortable enough to use the changeup early in the count to set up his fastballs and power curve, and his team has trailed when he left the game in only one of his four starts. If the new approach and methodology results in more walks instead of more hits, the Orioles will be perfectly happy with the end result.

Penned in: Three weeks into the season, it's easy to detect a sea change in some key statistics affecting the Orioles. Baltimore's bullpen ranked near the bottom of the league standings in virtually every category last year, but after an offseason spending spree, the team's relief staff has reappeared at the top of the stat sheet.

Heading into Sunday's games, the Orioles' bullpen has the second-best ERA (2.59) and has logged the second-highest inning total (59) in the American League. It also has allowed the second-lowest on-base percentage (.283), the third-lowest slugging mark (.314) and the fifth-lowest batting average (.220) of any AL club.

Baltimore's relief staff has 54 strikeouts, tops in the league, and has allowed just three home runs. Mazzone said there is no individual X-Factor and credited his veteran relievers for working well together.

"It's the end result of having good Major League relief pitchers down there with know-how and makeup. You can always get better, but they've been excellent," he said of his refurbished corps of relievers. "Whether it makes it any easier or not, it makes you a lot more confident. You've got character people down there, so you know if there is a bump, it's only because of a location mistake or the human element of the game.

"It isn't because they weren't prepared. It isn't because they're not dedicated to their work."

Upset stomach: Second baseman Brian Roberts returned to Camden Yards on Sunday, one day after flu-like symptoms caused him to miss the game. Baltimore's regular leadoff hitter said he hopes to return to the field on Monday, but he also said his current condition doesn't allow him to know whether that's realistic or not.

"At this point, I just really don't have anything in me," said Roberts, who had played in every game before Saturday. "I'm just weak and I still have some symptoms. We'll try to get it out and let somebody healthy play."

The switch-hitter said he doesn't know how he got sick, but he recalled waking up in the middle of the night on Friday and "feeling terrible." He came in early Saturday, as he normally does, but received the strange instruction to go home and rest up. Roberts did exactly that, and he said it was a strange experience to be away from the team.

"I think [reliever] Scott Williamson had a little bit of the same thing [earlier in the season], and I think they just wanted to keep everybody away from each other," Roberts said of his early exit. "We don't need to make it worse around here. It was weird to sit at home and watch it on TV, but the guys played great and it was nice to watch us win."

Quotable: "What I feel good about is you've got Erik Bedard at 3-1, Loewen at 2-2 and Daniel Cabrera at 1-1 -- and they're not totally kicked in yet, which is great. And you've got an offense that's scoring runs and a bullpen that holds it. ... There can't just be one factor in winning ballgames. There has to be a trifecta."
-- Mazzone on Baltimore's early recipe for success, which has led to victories in four of the team's last five series

Coming up: The Orioles will welcome the A's on Monday night at 7:05 ET for the first act of a two-game series. Bedard will take the ball for the home team, and he'll be matched against Oakland's Dan Haren.

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