Looper: Does he stay or does he go?

Brewers starter Braden Looper figures to face a difficult decision this winter when it comes time to act on his mutual option for 2010. With run support like this, how could he think about going anyplace else? 

Rookie shortstop Alcides Escobar set career highs with four hits and three RBIs, and the Brewers scored early and often to help Looper set his career high for wins in a 9-5 win over the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Wednesday. 

Looper (13-6) had won 12 games in each of his first two seasons as a starter after making the first 563 appearances of his career in relief. He didn’t exactly cruise to lucky No. 13, allowing five runs on nine Cubs hits including Aramis Ramirez’s two-run home run in a three-run fifth inning. Looper escaped with the lead, and four Brewers relievers preserved it. 

“It’s nice to go out there and have the guys put runs on the board,” Looper said. “It definitely makes it easier, that’s for sure.” 

It’s happened for him a lot. The Brewers have scored at least six runs in eight of Looper’s 13 wins including Wednesday, when they jumped to a 5-0 lead against Cubs starter Rich Harden (9-9) after three innings and extended the lead to 9-2 in the fifth. Six different Brewers drove in a run including Looper, who scored Escobar with a single in the second inning. 

All Looper had to do was get through the bottom of the fifth to qualify for his milestone win, and it was a struggle. But he offered an explanation for his mid-inning struggles.

He was playing catch in the outfield at Wrigley Field on Tuesday during batting practice when a line drive struck him in the middle of the back.

“I got crushed,” he said. “My back started tightening up on me in the third inning [of Wednesday’s game], really bad. It was a battle. I was able to pitch through it. I felt really good until the third or the fourth inning and then it started getting tighter and tighter and tighter. 

“It’s frustrating because I felt so good at the beginning. I’ve been working on things with [pitching coach Chris Bosio] and I feel like I’m making improvements, and when something like that happens, it stinks.” 

Looper said his availability for Wednesday was never in doubt. 

“I wasn’t going to let that happen,” he said. 

It won’t be as painful as a line drive in the back, but Looper could face a tough decision this winter. Given their need for pitching, the Brewers almost certainly will exercise their half of Looper’s $6.5 million option for 2010, leaving him to decide whether to accept or to seek a multiyear deal on the open market. 

Looper insisted he’s not thinking about that just yet. 

“We’ll see. It’s not my decision right now, and until they [decide], I don’t have to do anything,” Looper said. “I really like it here, and this would be my first choice, for sure. You get to a place and you start to know the guys, you feel like a part of what’s going on. But you never know. The option gives me a little bit of leverage.” 

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