Looper to face team that let him go

Looper to face team that let him go

ST. LOUIS -- Braden Looper is not only facing his former team on Monday, he's matched up against the pitcher that essentially nudged him out of town.

The Cardinals were not players for Looper when he hit the the free-agent market over the winter because they had already committed four years and $41 million to right-hander Kyle Lohse. The ink was dry on Lohse's extension before Looper formally filed for free agency after his three-year stint in St. Louis.

Looper, set to start for his new team, the Brewers, at Busch Stadium on Monday night, said he was "somewhat" disappointed that the Cardinals didn't show more interest in keeping him on board.

"I understood that they had signed Lohse," Looper said. "They kind of made their decision. Obviously, when you play in a place and you're comfortable, you want to come back."

Looper remained unsigned in a difficult free-agent market until the week before Spring Training, when he signed a one-year deal with Milwaukee that included a mutual option for 2010.

"We saw him do some really good things," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "Like [fellow Cardinal-turned-Brewer Jeff Suppan], we've got terrific respect for him. I hope he's not as successful against us as Soup has been."

Suppan beat the Cardinals on Saturday with seven strong innings and is 5-0 against St. Louis since leaving after the 2007 season.

Looper is pitching against the Cardinals earlier than expected. Monday was supposed to be an off-day before the Brewers began a series in Houston on Tuesday night behind Looper. But Friday's series opener in St. Louis was rained out and rescheduled for Monday, and manager Ken Macha opted to start Looper because he will be on regular rest.

"I'm really fortunate the way things ended up," Looper said, referring again to his offseason odyssey. "I landed on my feet in a great spot with a team that has a chance to win. That's really all you want as a player."

Still, it was strange to return to Busch Stadium this weekend.

"I've done it before," said Looper, a former Cardinals first-round Draft pick who has since pitched for the Marlins, Mets, the Cardinals again and now the Brewers. "But it's always weird coming back to a place you played for the first time. I still have a lot of friends over there, guys I spent a lot of time with over the last three years.

"But it's a competition. We're competitive people, so I'm looking forward to it."

Looper started strong for the Brewers, going 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA in his first four starts. But in three starts since he's 1-2 with a 7.71 ERA, including a bad outing in Cincinnati in which he lasted only 3 1/3 innings. He's allowed five runs in each of his last two starts while dealing with a sore knee, but the most recent outing qualified as a success. The Marlins scored three runs before making an out, but he allowed only two more runs in six innings while the Brewers' offense rallied to get Looper the win.

"Two starts ago [against the Reds], he was completely out of sync," Macha said. "In his last game, he stayed tall on the back side, threw the ball pretty well. He just didn't get it going until the third inning. That comes and goes for all pitchers."

The Cardinals have some new faces, but Looper will face plenty of former teammates, including St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina, who knows Looper's game plan better than anybody because he was intimately involved with Looper's switch from reliever to starter in 2007. There's also first baseman Albert Pujols, who, along with his wife, became good friends with the Loopers.

Will the Cardinals' familiarity with Looper be a disadvantage for the Brewers?

"I hope not," Looper said. "I don't know, we'll see. I just have to make my pitches. If you make a mistake against a team like that, you're going to get beat. That's big league baseball."

Pitching matchup
MIL: RHP Braden Looper (3-2, 4.70 ERA)
This was originally an off-day, but a rainout Friday night that was rescheduled for Monday prompted Macha to shuffle the deck. He could have used Yovani Gallardo, but instead bumped up Braden Looper to start against his former team.

STL: RHP Kyle Lohse (3-2, 4.25 ERA)
Lohse pitched two innings on Friday night, about the same amount of work that he would get in a normal between-starts bullpen session. Thus, when he pitches on Monday, it will feel at least somewhat like he's on a normal routine.

Tidbits
Macha said he would have used someone other than closer Trevor Hoffman in a save situation on Sunday after Hoffman pitched Saturday for the fourth time in five days. "That was more me, watching him pitch four out of five days, he just wasn't going to get in today," Macha said. ... The Brewers will likely be playing a man short on Monday while second baseman Rickie Weeks visits a hand specialist in Phoenix. Weeks left Sunday's game in the first inning with a sore left wrist. ... If the Brewers need to make a roster move, Triple-A Nashville is a four-hour drive or a short flight from St. Louis. The top infield option at Nashville might be Hernan Iribarren, who went 0-for-4 Sunday but is hitting .311 this season. Shortstop Alcides Escobar is also at Nashville, but the Brewers may prefer to leave their top prospect there to play every day. ... The Brewers have won eight of their last nine games at Busch Stadium.

Tickets
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On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• FSN-HD

On radio
• WTMJ 620

Up next
• Tuesday: Brewers (Dave Bush, 2-0, 3.83) at Astros (Mike Hampton, 2-3, 5.31), 7:05 p.m. CT
• Wednesday: Brewers (Yovani Gallardo, 4-1, 3.09) at Astros (Wandy Rodriguez, 4-2, 1.90), 7:05 p.m. CT
• Thursday: Brewers (Jeff Suppan, 3-3, 4.63) at Astros (Roy Oswalt, 1-2, 4.50), 7:05 p.m. CT

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.