LOS ANGELES — Aaron Loup is the Mets’ country-singing, Busch Light-drinking, lefty-smothering shutdown reliever, and the only thing more consistent than his pitching is his choice of pregame headwear.
In May, he and all other major-leaguers received camo hats adorned with their team’s logo. Officially, it was special gear for MLB’s Armed Forces Weekend, but it also fit right into Loup’s fashion sweet spot. Before virtually every game since, he has taken the field wearing that same cap, now marked with sweat stains after hours under the sun during his routine catch sessions.
"I’m a big hunter and fisher," said Loup, a Louisiana native with a deep drawl. "So, camo. I rock camo all the time. Any time they hand me something with camo, I typically stick with it."
So, too, has he stuck with being absolutely nasty out of the Mets’ bullpen.
The numbers, aided by his funky sidearming lefthanded delivery, are striking: 1.09 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 5.6 strikeouts for every walk.
Loup hasn’t allowed a run since July 4, a stretch of 21 appearances. He has given up one run in the past three months — half of a season. Lefthanded hitters don’t have any extra-base hits against him.
"To be honest with you, I haven’t looked at my numbers," he said. "I know they’re probably pretty good, because I’ve been pitching well. But I try not to pay attention to it."
Manager Luis Rojas said: "For sure he has exceeded my expectations. The day we signed him, I knew he was a great pitcher, but he’s having an elite year."
The Mets didn’t sign him until Jan. 30, giving him a one-year deal worth $3 million — which actually is up to $3.15 million thanks to appearances-based bonus thresholds — that diversified the team’s relief corps by adding a much-needed lefthanded presence who is effective against righthanded and lefthanded hitters.
Loup was among the Mets’ later offseason acquisitions, but it was the earliest in the baseball calendar he had found a new team. Such is the life of a journeyman reliever.
"It’s always been literally right before camp starts," he said, noting that one year he didn’t get a new job until after spring training was underway. "I feel like relievers are always the last guys to go anyway."
In the months since, he has been perhaps the Mets’ most reliable reliever. He has pitched in every inning — including the first on a pair of occasions — but mostly in the seventh and eighth, among the go-to setup men for closer Edwin Diaz.
Loup likes it that way, that flexibility and unpredictability.
"It’s what I’ve become accustomed to," he said. "I’ve never needed a role. I’ve never needed to be the eighth-inning guy. I’ve always kind of liked doing everything. I think it makes me more valuable. But in the end, probably when it comes down to making money, it’s not. But for me, it keeps you focused, locked into the game, and you always anticipate when the phone rings that it’s you."
About the making money bit: Loup is set to be a free agent again after this season. He pitched for the Blue Jays from 2012-18 but has bounced from Toronto to Philadelphia to San Diego to Tampa Bay to New York in the past four seasons.
Loup doesn’t ask for a lot, but he wouldn’t mind being able to stay put for a couple of seasons. He hasn’t had any talks with the Mets, he said, other than the pitching coaches expressing their hope that he’ll stay and him saying the same.
"At this point, being on the tail end of my career, with the season I’ve had, I’m hoping to sign a multiyear deal," said Loup, who has a 3.14 ERA in 10 seasons. "Probably, most likely, we’ll see where I’m at at the end of it. But I’ll probably be pretty close to retirement at that point."
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