Tigers alum stars in bullpen for MLB’s Blue Jays

A former Hahnville High School star, Aaron Loup has not only made it in the majors, he’s thrived there. The left-handed pitcher’s career 3.30 ERA and 1.20 WHIP have come entirely as a reliever for the Toronto Blue Jays, Loup currently in the midst of his sixth season. Through his first 39 games this year he’s logged 31.1 innings to go with a 3.73 ERA and 31 strikeouts.

Loup was drafted by the Blue Jays in the ninth round of the 2009 MLB Draft. He pitched in the minor leagues for three years before being called up by Toronto during the 2012 season — he retired all six of the batters he faced in his debut and found himself in the majors to stay. His marks of 2.64 in ERA and his microscopic 0.91 WHIP earned him honors as Toronto’s Rookie of the Year, as voted on by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

He began gaining positive attention at Hahnville High as he led the Tigers to the state playoffs in four straight seasons. His complete game no-hitter against Terrebonne during his sophomore season stands as one of his peak performances as a prep player, and one that earned him attention from Tulane, where he went on to play collegiately.

Riverside Academy head baseball coach Frank Cazeaux coached Loup during the latter’s junior year at Hahnville, and he said his former pupil always had the makeup to find major success in the big leagues.

“There’s no doubt about it. He’s a lefty that had a great head on his shoulders,” Cazeaux said. “He was ahead of his time in some ways … he was a kid who could really pitch. We had Aaron, we had Jordan Brown who was pretty good too, and we had some success there. I’ve seen (Loup) dominate hitters.”

He said Loup’s demeanor was a quiet one, but once he got on the mound, his pitching repertoire spoke loudly.

“His ball ran a lot, something that made him special,” Cazeaux said. “He threw all three pitches for strikes, the fastball, breaking ball and changeup. You see him out there today, his delivery, it’s very close to what he was in high school but a lot more polished. He’s always been just a big time competitor.”

At 5’11, 210 pounds, Loup has never had imposing size or the highest heat on his fastball. He’s made up for that with great control.

In the first two seasons of Loup’s major league career, his mark of walking 2.6 percent of the batters he faced in his career stood as the lowest rate in the majors at the time.  In three of his first four seasons, he walked less than two batters per nine innings.

That control came, in part, as result of an adjustment he made in the minor leagues at the suggestion of his coaches. Loup became a sidearm pitcher.

He’s also been a workhorse out of the bullpen throughout his career, pitching nearly 70 innings per season in his second and third seasons and 42.1 in 2015. He missed much of the 2016 campaign with an injury, but this season has seen a return to his heavy lifting, Loup on pace to top 60 innings again.

He’s been counted upon in so many big spots because when it comes to facing left-handed batters, Loup is suffocating: over his career, lefties hit only .216 against him and have just five total home runs.

Loup also holds an odd distinction on the offensive side of the spectrum: he was the first pitcher in Toronto history to bat in an American League game when he was called upon as a pinch-hitter in the 15th inning of a game against the Oakland Athletics.

Cazeaux says he’s proud to have been a part of Loup’s baseball career even for a brief time, and called him a pleasure to coach.

“He was a special kid,” Cazeaux said. “Credit to his parents, as well, because he knew he was a good player but he never talked down to anyone. You never heard, ‘hey, he threw too many pitches’ or ‘hey, he’s got this showcase coming up and needs time away,’ not from his parents, not from him. Never, ever. I certainly loved coaching Aaron.”

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