Loree's impressive run starts in draft's 50th round
Perfection is rare enough in baseball that no one would think any player—let alone a 50th-round draft pick—could put together the kind of performance Mike Loree completed over three games.
Loree threw one of the most impressive stretches imaginable when he allowed just a solo home run in 20 innings, retiring 62 of 63 batters he faced in that span and taking a perfect game at least six innings in each of the three starts. The Salem-Keizer righthander had gone from barely squeezing into the draft to being one of the short-season Northwest League's toughest pitchers.
The Giants drafted Loree out of Villanova last year and promptly sent him to the Arizona League to pitch as a reliever.
"I enjoyed it," Loree said. "I learned the importance of locating my pitches and being able to establish the strike zone."
Loree's season was cut short when a staph infection was diagnosed in his foot in late July. He had two surgeries in early August, but was unable to pitch again in 2007.
Loree returned in 2008 with a sense of vigor and impressed in extended spring training before the start of the Northwest League season.
"We thought we had a guy who could keep us in ballgames and could help us succeed," Salem- Keizer manager Tom Trebelhorn said.
After allowing two runs in four innings in his season debut, Loree threw five shutout innings and gave up just two hits against Tri-City. His comeback was taking shape following the staph infection and he had already impressed his coaches.
"He's not the kind of guy that you see that makes you go 'Wow,'" pitching coach Jerry Cram said. "He's not afraid of contact. He's got movement and he keeps a low pitch count."
Cram had no idea how efficient Loree was about to be over his next three games.
Loree pitched six perfect innings and struck out seven in a June 30 road game against Eugene.
Loree again faced Tri-City in his next outing. This time he threw 62⁄3 perfect innings before Leonardo Reyes took him deep to right field. Loree retired the next batter he faced and left the game after the seventh inning.
Two spectacular outings was impressive enough, but Loree wasn't finished yet. His next start came on the road, just as he had been during the first perfect performance. Loree dazzled Yakima and was perfect again, throwing seven innings.
"I don't feel like I did anything different," Loree said. "I was able to locate my pitches down in the strike zone, which helped me out."
Through Loree didn't notice a difference, Trebelhorn was taken aback.
"I've never seen anybody retire that number of people the way he did," Trebelhorn said. "Throwing out the home run, there were only three or four nice plays in the field. He went through lineups with a precision and pace that was amazing."
Though Loree dominated hitters through those 20 innings, he rarely received praise from his teammates because of a baseball superstition where a perfect game is not mentioned as long as the pitcher still has it.
"Nobody said anything to me," Loree laughed. "So I didn't say anything either."
Loree could not recapture the magic for a fourth time in his next start. This time the perfect game ended with the first batter and Loree went on to allow three runs in the first inning, but did not allow Vancouver to score again through the fifth inning.
"I think he pitched not to give up a hit," Cram said. "He wasn't as aggressive as he was in the past."
"After the first inning I told myself I had to keep it at three runs," said Loree, whose Salem-Keizer team emerged from the stretch winning just one of the three games.
Loree's performance continued to stick in his coaches' minds throughout the next week. They couldn't remember anyone dominating to the degree that Loree had over three games.
"It's a once in a lifetime performance," Cram said. "One time I struck out nine guys in a row. His performance is as dominating as that, only he kept it going for a long period of time. It is something he is going to get to remember for the rest of his life."
"To maintain that level of excellence over those three games, you're talking about a different world," Trebelhorn said.
Employee Of The Month
While the three-game stretch speaks for itself, Loree has put up another incredible feat this season. He had not walked a batter all season until he issued an intentional walk in the game that ended his perfect run. In 34 innings, that was Loree's only walk.
Loree throws a fastball at 84-88 mph, a changeup and a slurvy slider that he has been working on with Cram.
"During spring training and extended (spring training) we were working on the changeup and slider," Loree said. "We kept working on my slider to get it better."
"The one thing we are working on is his slider," Cram said. "His mechanics are pretty good. If his slider and changeup improves, he's a guy that could eat up middle innings in the big leagues some day. He is a pleasure to watch."
The ability to confuse hitters at the plate while still throwing strikes on a consistent basis has been Loree's calling card.
"He has command of his fastball," Trebelhorn said. "He has the ability to throw three pitches at different speeds and at different locations. I think he has enhanced his prospective status with (these three games) and our organization is taking another look at him."
Trebelhorn spoke highly of Loree's ability on the field, but even higher of the way he carries himself as a teammate.
"It's not too often that we refer to baseball players as employees anymore," Trebelhorn said. "But if I were to write up a job report on him it would say he is reliable, does his job, fits in well with co-workers and follows our rules and regulations."