Looper looking to get back on track

Looper looking to get back on track

JUPITER, Fla. -- One thing Braden Looper absolutely could not afford to do last season was to get ahead of himself. In 2008, it's become his biggest problem.

Looper believes that thinking big-picture, rather than concerning himself with each individual pitch, has cost him dearly in his past two Spring Training starts. So while he's working on mechanics, making sure he stays back, he's also reminding himself that he has to keep his head in the game.

"I'm just trying to get a good feeling," Looper said Monday after throwing a bullpen session. "I feel so good physically, and I just feel like I'm a little out of whack. A lot of it, I would say, is my approach. ... I've felt so good that I've tried to overthrow some. It's the best I've felt in years."

Looper's next scheduled start was pushed back by two days, giving him the chance to throw an extra bullpen between games. On Monday he worked extremely deliberately, putting great emphasis on getting the ball down in the strike zone.

He's confident it will pay off when he pitches again, which will be Thursday against the Marlins at Roger Dean Stadium.

"It's just focusing more on pitch-by-pitch," he said, "rather than, 'OK, I'm going to get my six innings in today and this is what I'm going to work on.' I'm behind before it even starts. Now, I'm going to go out there next time, and it's just going to be, 'First hitter, this is how I'm going to attack him.'"

Last spring, Looper had to be at his most focused, because he was making the shift from relieving to starting. He was not guaranteed a spot in the rotation. This time around, he's one of three healthy pitchers with a starting job secured.

That can be good, but it may also be having a kind of negative effect on Looper.

"It's more his mental approach than it is anything physical," said pitching coach Dave Duncan. "Physically, he's thrown a lot of balls at the top of the strike zone, but I think it's more his mental approach than anything physical."

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