Missouri baseball went out on top last year.
In the team's final season of the Big 12 conference, the Tigers went on a five-game winning streak and won the Big 12 championship for the first time in school history.
With the tournament championship proudly draped over their shoulder, the Tigers now move to the Southeastern Conference, complete with eight ranked teams and the No.1 team in the nation, Arkansas. But to coach Tim Jamieson, that doesn’t matter.
“You can't change who we are in a year, not that we want to, but we are who we are,” Jamieson said. “We've always done well competing against the better teams on the biggest stages so I expect that to be the same. It's going to come down to talent level and how we match up to the teams we're playing. At conference, and it doesn't matter which conference, how well are we playing and how well is our opponent playing.”
One of Missouri’s biggest strengths in combating the SEC teams is its pitching staff, which Jamieson said has at least seven legitimate contenders fighting for the three-man rotation. But the one guaranteed starter will be junior Rob Zastryzny, who was one of the Tigers’ best arms in its championship season. In his 17 starts, Zastryzny posted a 3.80 ERA with 71 strikeouts and a 5-5 record.
Knowing that he’d be the No. 1 man to start the season, Zastryzny spent the offseason perfecting his craft.
"Yeah, location of the off-speed is what I have been working on a lot, consistency too,” Zastrynzny said. “I know last year I would be like, 'Fastball and curveball are working, got to use that, or fastball-change up.' Now it's kind of like everything is working that's what I had to choose. Now I got some stuff to play with, it's not so predictable anymore.
Missouri's former ace senior Eric Anderson will also return to rotation. After recovering from a shoulder injury in 2011, Anderson compiled an ERA of 4.93 and a 6-1 record. He only pitched three games in the 2012 season before having to undergo Tommy John surgery. According to Jamieson, Anderson is so far ahead of schedule he will be healthy enough to pitch in this weekend’s series. But the team will hold off on his activity until next week’s road series against Memphis.
Zastryzny is confident in his teammate's recovery and eventual return to dominance.
“Whatever he's throwing, he's just blowing people away,” Zastryzny said. “He's a horse up there. That's what I like to call him. I have a lot of confidence in him. No matter if he pitches Friday, Saturday, Sunday, he's going to be phenomenal and he's going to do his best.
Of the newcomers joining the team this season, the biggest eyebrow raiser is freshman pitcher Alec Rash. Rash was originally drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies as the 95th pick overall in the 2012 draft. But instead of taking the money, Rash decided not to sign with the team and instead joined Missouri.
Jamieson is chomping at the bit to see what Rash has to offer.
“I think about Alec, first of all he's a great competitor, physically he's finally getting healthy and near 100 percent,” Jamieson said. “He'll get experience with live hitters, experience what a game is like at this level so those are still adjustments he has to make, and just because he's throwing great doesn't mean he'll pitch great. But he threw the best that he's thrown since he's been here so that's pretty exciting.”
The Tigers begin their season on Friday with a three-game road trip against No. 23 Southern Mississippi. With so many ranked teams waiting for them down the road, Zastryzny is enthusiastic about starting the season against one.
“I love it,” Zastryzny said. “I love when teams are ranked. I love when we're the underdogs because that's what I've been the entire time. In high school I came from a team that was always supposed to win. And now I'm on a team that's never supposed to win so I've have been on both angles. I would rather be the underdog."