DUNEDIN, Fla. – Asked about Aaron Loup’s delivery and Jays pitching coach Pete Walker laughs before offering up “funky.”
The Louisiana left-hander throws somewhere between side-armed and the normal overarm motion, releasing his ball about shoulder height. It’s an effective style that has allowed the 25-year-old to skip Class-AAA ball altogether.
“Very, very difficult for left-handers to hit,” said Walker. “It’s no fun for a left-hander to stand in there. But he’s equally effective against right-handers. So he’s got a different delivery, unorthodox and one very difficult to pick up the ball.”
“Hitters aren’t used to seeing that,” added manager John Gibbons. “Especially lefties. It’s a different look and any time you can throw different looks out there, that gives you an advantage.”
Add “sneaky fast” to the funky delivery. Loup threw consistently in the low 90s last season, with his fastball as high as 94 and 95 miles per hour.
Loup was called up mid-season in 2012 from Class-AA ball in New Hampshire and went 0-2 in Toronto with a 2.64 ERA, 21 strikeouts and just two walks in 30 2/3 innings.
The injuries that plagued the Jays pitchers last year opened the door to the big leagues for Loup. And some earlier pitching refinements — dropping his delivery — helped him excel when he got there.
“He’s rare …he really wasn’t on the radar the year before and just blossomed last year,” said Walker.
He made his debut at home to the visiting Cleveland Indians on July 14, going two innings without giving up a hit despite some major-league nerves and a few peeks at the stadium around him.
“It was awesome,” he said.
Loup, taken by Toronto in the ninth round of the 2009 June draft, finished the season by being named the Jays’ rookie of the year.
“It was everything I expected and a little bit more,” Loup said of life in the majors. “I had a blast while I was up there. It was a ton of fun, really exhilarating.”
And, as he notes, the food was much better.
Loup, a soft-spoken, polite type, also fit in with the Jays.
“The older guys love him,” Walker said. “He knows how to handle himself, he knows when to speak and when not to speak.”
Loup credits the Jays for taking him under their wing when he was called up.
“They made it real easy for me, real comfortable which was really big for me because I had no idea what to expect when I got there.”
Listed at five foot 11, Loup is the shortest of the 22 pitchers currently in camp. Next to six-foot-seven Josh Johnson, six-foot-six J.A. Happ or six-foot-five Steve Delabar, Loup is like the little brother just happy to be with the big boys.
He answers a reporter’s questions in a southern lilt, often with a “Yes sir.”
But there is some steel beneath the bayou charm.
“He’s not afraid of anybody,” said Walker. “It’s a great trait to have.”
There are limited openings in this year’s bullpen and Loup probably finds himself vying against Brett Cecil and Happ, depending on what role the Jays are looking to fill.
Gibbons sees Loup as a situational pitcher, brought in to take care of immediate business. Cecil can provide multiple innings while Happ is a starter who has been squeezed out by the additions of R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle and Johnson.
“How it best fits the team, how it all stacks up down there is really what it’s going to come down to,” Gibbons said of the battle to be the last leftie. “But we’re going to go with the best guy, not because guys are out of options (to go down to the minors without having to be put on waivers).”
The way Loup sees it, if he does what he did last year then he has a chance.
“But we’ll see how it goes, there’s a lot of good guys here, a lot of good pitchers.”
Loup’s home is about 20 minutes west of New Orleans, where he went to college at Tulane. He was a senior at high school when Hurricane Katrina hit, knocking the power out and taking a toll on the shingles on the roof.
While not a big city person, Loup says Toronto’s pace is more manageable than other major urbane centres.
“I like to relax,” he said. “I’m a pretty mellow, chill person so it works.”
Back home, he likes to hunt and fish when he can. That involved taking a few deer with his bow and shooting a “nice 10-point” with his gun in the off-season.
If he returns to Toronto, he hopes to see a few local sights including Niagara Falls.
NOTES — The tentative pitching menu for Saturday’s Grapefruit League opener against Detroit is Brandon Morrow (1 inning), Brad Lincoln (1), Steve Delabar (1), Esmil Rogers (1), David Bush (2), Ramon Ortiz (2) and Neil Wagner (1). But the two-inning stint is more like a 30-pitch count … While saying closer Casey Janssen continues his planned return from off-season shoulder surgery, Jays pitching coach Pete Walker acknowledges the progress is a “little slow.” But he says the team is prepared in case Janssen is not ready for opening day. That presumably means Sergio Santos, who went down early last season, allowing Janssen to take over as the closer.