Yet, when the Cardinals arrived for spring training, Looper was slated to be in the starting rotation.
"I don't think it's an experiment," pitching coach Dave Duncan said. "I wouldn't even consider trying him as a starter if I didn't think physically and mentally he couldn't do it."
Looper's career change is atypical for many reasons. At 32, he has never pitched more than three innings in a single outing in his major league career.
"I've always kind of wanted to do it," Looper said. "I've never told anybody that. There was talk about it when I was with the Marlins one year but we needed a closer. People are sitting back saying, `This is a gimmick.' For me that's fuel for the fire. I want to prove everybody wrong if they don't think I can do it."
Looper was 9-3 with a 3.56 ERA in 2006 after signing with the Cardinals, the team that originally drafted him. The previous two seasons he saved 57 games for the Mets. Looper started his career with the Cardinals before being traded to the Marlins before the 1999 season.
One of Looper's three-inning outings was Game 4 of last season's NL championship series against the Mets, when he allowed one run on two hits in the Cardinals' 12-5 loss.
"I just know later in the year when I threw (two or more) innings a couple of times I felt different because I was doing things I normally don't do out of the bullpen, and to me that was fun," Looper said. "Setting up hitters different ways. I was throwing sliders in on lefties a lot. Mixing up what I was doing. To me that was more pitching than going out there and trying to get a ground ball on the first pitch."
Relievers, especially closers, typically get by with one or two pitches. Looper recently relied mainly on his hard sinker and split-fingered fastball. He will work on further developing his breaking ball during the spring. His routine will not change much until the games start and he's on the mound longer than an inning.
"You look back at some of the times he threw longer and longer, you could just see him get more flow into the game," Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter said. "And it wasn't that, `I just have to get this one guy out.' It was, `I'm going to get this guy out this way.' He was working around and really pitching. He's going to be fun to watch."