Although Missouri pitchers Kyle Gibson, Ian Berger and Nick Tepesch did not actually hand out business cards to Ball State hitters during Missouri's four-game series with the Cardinals over the weekend, they each let opposing batters know their names with a little help from a former Cy Young winner.
During Missouri's nine-game road trip in Arizona, the Tigers' pitchers and catchers had a chance to meet with Rick Sutcliffe, who pitched 18 years in the major leagues and won the 1984 National League Cy Young Award while with the Chicago Cubs.
"After a practice, he came to the stands where all the pitchers and catchers were sitting and he talked about his career and how he got to where he was," Berger said. "He talked about throwing the first punch and getting ahead of hitters. He said when he went inside, he made sure it was the hardest pitch he threw."
Sutcliffe, who grew up in Independence and wanted to be a Missouri football player growing up, explained his strategy of throwing inside on batters to Missouri's pitchers as "giving batters your business card."
In the weekend series against Ball State, Missouri's pitchers did just that -- continually busting hitters inside with fastballs to keep Ball State's lineup off-balance.
"You really have to establish yourself and establish that you're going to throw inside because if hitters lean over the plate, you know they're more comfortable and that takes away a lot of pitches," said Gibson, who struck out 13 batters in eight innings Friday.
Berger bought into Sutcliffe's "business card" strategy and pitched his best game of the season, striking out nine batters in his five innings of work March 7.
"My last couple of starts I wasn't really letting the ball go, but (Saturday) I said I'm just going to let it fly and attack my spots with 100 percent effort," Berger said.
The use of his fastball on the hands of Ball State's hitters set up his changeup and curveball well, which led to a successful outing.
"That was a different Ian Berger than we've seen this year," coach Tim Jamieson said after Berger's start. "It was more like the guy we've had the last couple of years -- on the attack, aggressive, and confident."
Tepesch also threw inside more and had positive results in his start March 8 when he fanned 12 batters in 6.2 innings.
"The stuff (Sutcliffe) said has helped a lot," Tepesch said. "Since I've started going inside on hitters, I've done a lot better."
The meeting with Sutcliffe was set up by Missouri assistant coach Tony Vitello, who was the man behind the meteoric rises of former Tiger first-round picks Max Scherzer and Aaron Crow.
"We hear information from (our coaches) all the time, and while we still listen to them, hearing different information from a different person sparks your attention," Gibson said. "Being a pitcher, it was cool to talk to a guy who's done it for 18 years, knows how to teach the game and knows what it's all about.
Berger, who grew up a Cubs fan, was similarly awestruck by Sutcliffe.
"He's a big leaguer, and any time a big leaguer's talking, you listen," Berger said.