The plan for the Missouri baseball team’s pitching staff this season was that it was going to be headed up by junior Eric Anderson and sophomore Rob Zastryzny.
It seemed obvious, as Zastryzny was named to the 2011 Big 12 Conference All-Freshman team and Anderson pitched for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team last summer.
But the Tiger that ended up occupying the third spot in the rotation is the one who has really impressed this season.
Junior Blake Holovach, a 6-foot-5-inch lefty from Overland Park, Kan., came to MU after two years at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College and has been an extremely pleasant surprise for the Tigers, leading the team in wins with five and solidifying his role as a top-three starter.
He started the season in the bullpen, but began to get starts during the home-opening series against Ball State in which he threw five scoreless innings with eight strikeouts.
“The bullpen is funny, but usually with the lesser amount of pitches your velocity goes up,” coach Tim Jamieson said. “With Blake it was just the opposite, his velocity came down … When he got back to starter he was more about rhythm and timing and he relaxed so his velocity actually went up.”
Holovach catapulted himself into prominence in his third start March 17 against High Point, his first as the team’s No. 2 starter due to Anderson's elbow injury. He threw a complete-game shutout — the first by a Missouri pitcher since Kyle Gibson in 2009 — while allowing only four hits in the game.
“The innings that I didn’t throw a lot of pitches were just quality pitches, and they’d just put swings on them and roll over,” he said after the outing.
That statement is an apt representation of Holovach’s game. He has 31 strikeouts this year over 49.2 innings for a ratio of 5.6 per nine innings pitched.
Holovach’s recent success is even more impressive considering he only started pitching right before his senior year of high school. In his two seasons at Coffeyville CC, he posted an unremarkable 7-8 record with a 5.15 ERA.
But the first time pitching coach Matt Hobbs saw Holovach pitch, his stuff jumped out at Hobbs and gave him the incentive to pursue the lefty.
“When I saw him, I knew we had no one who could do what he could do with his fastball, and that’s the reason we were really aggressive about signing him,” Hobbs said.
Holovach’s key to fulfilling his potential, Jamieson and Hobbs said, is to develop a strong secondary pitch. Holovach throws a slider and change-up, but not at a level of consistency typical of a star pitcher. He has put in extra time to work on those pitches, but Hobbs said the process is still ongoing.
“I think Blake’s ceiling is a little bit higher than anyone we have, but it’s going to take him some time,” he said.
But the Tigers will still take Holovach as he is, especially now that they’ve hit the rocky Big 12 section of their schedule.
“(Holovach) doesn’t have a lot of mileage on him, he doesn’t have a whole lot of people trying to get into his head … he just wants to learn and he’s soaking it up, and I think the sky’s the limit for that guy,” Hobbs said.