Looper adjusting to starting mind-set
On the field, first start goes fine; off-field role new again
JUPITER, Fla. -- The hardest part of Braden Looper's much-hyped mid-career move has nothing to do with the game between the lines. The greatest challenge in Looper's switch from relieving to starting, it turns out, is figuring out what to do with all the time during the day before he takes the mound.
In the hours before Looper's first start since he was in Class A, he found himself with time on his hands and no idea how to spend it.
As Friday morning dragged on, Looper wandered around the Roger Dean Stadium complex. He watched teammates Anthony Reyes and Chris Lambert throw bullpen sessions. He played some tunes on his iPod. He tried to kill time, but the time just wouldn't expire.
"That was the weirdest part, just kind of sitting around and not having much to do," he said. "Getting used to that, I think, is going to be something I'll learn. I was probably here a little early. I think during the season they're not here that early. Maybe I'll go hit or do something. But today I didn't do much -- listened to a lot of music. I kept walking around, reading newspapers and stuff."
Once Looper took the mound, things were fairly normal. He got through a 1-2-3 first inning on eight pitches, striking out Endy Chavez. A bloop single by Julio Franco was the only blemish in the second inning.
Looper flagged a bit in the third, allowing a walk, a deep fly to the warning track and an RBI double, but he'll take the final line. Three innings, two hits, one run, one walk, one K. Not too bad for a guy whose last start came as a member of the Prince William Cannons.
"It's hard to get that whole routine or timing down, but it was fun," Looper said. "I went out there and felt like I pitched more than I normally do. Instead of just throwing all sinkers, I really tried to mix it up good. I left a few balls up, but for the most part, I felt real good."
Pitching coach Dave Duncan praised his charge. Duncan even brushed off Looper's uncharacteristic ratio of seven flyouts to one on the ground.
"It was good," Duncan said. "He threw the ball good, he handled himself on the mound good. Made a lot of good quality pitches. Good start.
"It's an unusual number of fly balls for him, but I think as the spring goes on, you'll see a little bit more sharpness from the sinker and some more ground balls from him."
It's becoming clearer all the time that Looper may not exactly be in competition for a starting spot. A more accurate depiction, it seems, is that Looper is preparing for a job that is all but his -- barring a complete belly flop during the spring.
That didn't happen Friday. Looper didn't dominate, but he certainly didn't flop either. So he was pleased as he made the walk from the field to the clubhouse.
"I think there's a little relief," he said. "I got that first one out of the way and felt like it went well. Obviously there's room for improvement. But this is somewhat of a new thing for me. Everybody's talking about it, and I want to go out there and be successful. But I feel like it was a great first step."
Right as he spoke the words, Looper realized he had one more rotation ritual to adjust to -- the poststart media briefing. As he chatted at length with reporters, Looper realized he'd had his ice wrap on for far too long. He excused himself for a moment, removed the ace bandages and resumed chatting.
Just another of those little adjustments that he's learning to make in his new gig.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.