Loup's role in 'pen amplified after offseason shuffle
With Janssen on free-agent market, left-hander could fill closer vacancy
TORONTO -- Aaron Loup had another effective season out of the Blue Jays' bullpen in 2014, but if there was one cause for concern, it was his occasional loss of command.
Loup walked more than twice as many batters last year as he did in 2013. The lack of control came as a surprise, but it's also something he appeared to solve during the second half of the year.
The 27-year-old issued eight free passes after the All-Star break, compared to 22 during the first half. It turns out that the problem began with a mechanical issue, and he was able to fix it with pitching coach Pete Walker.
"The walks got a little out of control for me, and I could tell there was something wrong, but I couldn't put my finger on it," Loup said during a recent stop on the club's Winter Tour. "We watched some film and noticed that I was throwing a little more across my body than what I usually am. We straightened that out, but it still didn't fix the problem completely.
"To me, I felt a little higher in my arm slot, so I thought I needed to go lower. When we watched video, I actually needed to be a tick higher. Once we put those two together, something clicked and it got a lot better in the second half of the season."
Loup has been an integral part of the bullpen for each of the past three seasons, but his value this year could be even higher. Casey Janssen, Dustin McGowan and Sergio Santos all hit free agency at the end of 2014, and they have yet to be replaced, which has left Toronto rather thin in relief.
Besides Loup, the only other proven commodity in middle relief is fellow left-hander Brett Cecil. Even if top prospect Aaron Sanchez eventually ends up in the bullpen, there's still the need for at least one more right-handed setup man, but that's also where Loup's versatility could come into play.
Loup's sidearm delivery is perfectly designed to attack lefties, but he has been equally as effective against right-handed hitters. His numbers against left-handers were sparkling, with opponents batting .159 with a .553 OPS, but even righties were limited to a .235 average and a .699 OPS in 2014.
The consistent production has caused some speculation about whether Loup could be considered for the vacancy at closer. That's not something Loup necessarily expects to happen, but he'd be more than willing to embrace the opportunity if it arises during camp.
"As far as ambitions, I think every reliever would like a chance to close," Loup said. "If it happens, it happens. It's not something where I'm saying, I'm going to go out there being like, 'I want to be the closer.' I'm just going to prepare myself the best I can for the season and go out there and do whatever I can in whatever role it may be."
The Blue Jays' bullpen might be a big question mark, but Loup also points out that many critics said the same thing about the club in 2013. The relievers were supposed to be a weak spot, but they instead turned into a strength. Even if additions aren't made before Spring Training, Loup thinks history could repeat itself.
"I think last year we had some injuries that hurt us," Loup said. "I think guys like a Steve Delabar, who had kind of a rough year last year, I'm pretty confident he'll bounce back this year and he'll be another important part of the bullpen. Then the guys we had last year, I think they're going to continue to have some success, and I think we'll be all right."