DUNEDIN, Fla. – An elbow strain will sideline Aaron Loup for two weeks and compromise his chances of breaking camp with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Loup returned to the mound after a five-day break Thursday and felt soreness in his elbow and forearm area. An MRI revealed a flexor strain in his left elbow, but no ligament damage.
Loup will rest for two more weeks in the hopes that the soreness will disappear with time. If all goes well it’s not out of the question that he could get the five or six appearances he needs to prepare for the season.
“My goal is to be ready for opening day,” Loup said. “It’s just going to depend on how it feels after these two weeks. If for whatever reason it takes a little longer, maybe not, but in my mind I’m shooting for opening day.”
Realistically that’s a lofty goal considering relievers often get approximately 10 appearances to prepare for the season. The Blue Jays can’t simply assume Loup will be ready on April 3.
“That’d be kind of tough,” manager John Gibbons said. "I don’t want to say no, but it might be real tough. Really it’d be a rush job."
Thanks to Brett Cecil, the Blue Jays already have one shutdown left-hander in their bullpen. If healthy, Loup provides Gibbons with a second lefty, but the Blue Jays may have to look elsewhere to open the season. Ambidextrous pitcher Pat Venditte has been particularly effective against left-handers, and Scott Diamond, Chad Girodo, Wade LeBlanc, Pat McCoy are all in camp on minor-league invites.
“You’re always looking for those guys who are really tough on lefties, because most of the top hitters in the game are left-handed hitters,” Gibbons said. "We’ll give them all a look."
Loup posted a 4.46 ERA with six home runs allowed last year in an uncharacteristically difficult season. To his credit, he continued generating ground balls while cutting down on walks and setting a career-high with 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings.
“After the season I had last year I wasn’t too happy about it. Granted, it wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great by any means,” Loup said. “To have a little setback like this definitely hurts a little bit.”
Loup suggests some bad luck contributed to his struggles, and a career-worst .339 batting average on balls in play allowed would back that idea up. The Blue Jays believe he’s got plenty to offer in 2016, particularly against left-handed hitters.
“That was really the first year he struggled,” Gibbons said. "I think a big part of it too is confidence. They all go through it no matter how good you are you go through those stretches where the game deserts you a little bit and now you’re scrambling trying to figure it out. The arm strength was still good. I think he’s still going to be very, very valuable for us, we’ve just got to get him healthy."
For Loup waiting this out may be the hardest part.
“Not being able to play catch or do anything, iIt’s killing me right now, that’s for sure.”