Game notes: Missouri baseball’s offense has room to improve, bullpen roles not fully solidified

The Tigers have scored 32 runs while only allowing nine during their three game winning streak.

The season was greeted with little sense of urgency for Missouri baseball. There was an inability to get runs across when they were needed most. As Coach Steve Bieser said in a press release after the Tigers’ 4-2 loss in the final of three games against North Florida, the at-bats were poor.

Four days later in its second game of the week — Missouri beat Florida A&M in its first game 5-3 — Missouri was once again unable to capitalize in big moments. In its 4-3 loss to Northeastern on Feb. 21, the team stranded 11 runners on base, including two in the bottom of the ninth inning with the winning run on base.

Starting in the first game against Rhode Island, something started shifting offensively for the Tigers.

Missouri racked up six runs on 12 hits in its series-opening loss against the Rams. The Tigers were up 5-4 until a four-run eighth inning for Rhode Island put Missouri in a deficit it couldn’t come back from.

The next day, Missouri outscored Rhode Island 12-4, notching 13 hits. The series finale was more of the same with the Tigers winning 7-0 on eight hits.

Returning to Taylor Stadium for its season opener on Tuesday, Missouri continued its offensive onslaught, crushing Alabama A&M 13-5. The Tigers rallied 10 hits, 12 walks and only struck out three times.

“It’s just kind of a mindset,” junior Kameron Misner said after the win. “We go out there, we don’t play to lose. We play to whoop whoever we know we’re facing.”

While 13 runs in a game would usually be considered more than sufficient, Bieser wasn’t satisfied with his team’s performance.

“It was a difficult game,” Bieser said. “I thought we struggled through most of the game, but we did take advantage of the opportunities the other team gave us and that’s what you have to do.”

Despite its offensive production during its three-game winning streak, there are still things that need to be improved on, particularly leaving runners on base. Missouri stranded 12 runners on base against Alabama A&M.

“We got to be very good at situational hitting,” Bieser said. “I want to be a lot better in our situationals. We had a nice sac bunt tonight, but leaving those runners at third base is not something we want to do with less than two outs.”

These nonconference games are all a tune up for Missouri’s hefty SEC schedule. Bieser said small ball will be an important part of the game plan when league play starts. The team will need to move runners and not allow runners to be left stranded at third base.

Missouri’s first SEC opponent is Arkansas on March 15.

Pitching roles yet to be defined.

The beginning of the season gives Bieser and his staff the chance to evaluate the pitching staff, determining who will come out of the bullpen — and in what order — and who will be mainstays in the starting rotation.

Tuesday’s starter, freshman Trae Robertson, was the Tigers’ latest experiment in the role. The Hickman High School product went two innings, giving up two earned runs on two hits and three walks, while striking out two.

“I think the biggest thing for me was once he went into the stretch, I was a little disappointed the way he was throwing the ball out of the stretch,” Bieser said. “We just got to work with him a little bit more with him for him to feel more comfortable with runners on base.”

From there, the succession of arms went in the order of freshmen Tommy Springer and Seth Halvorsen, sophomore Konnor Ash and freshman Luke Mann, who started the game at designated hitter.

The bullpen has been a point of contention so far this season. It has struggled getting through innings and recording scoreless innings late in the game — the team has given up four runs in the eighth inning three times in nine games. This, according to Bieser, is just part of the process.

“The reason people say the bullpen’s shaky in Florida is because we’re trying to get a look at every single guy,” Bieser said. “I think our bullpen is going to be pretty good. Right now, I’m giving some innings away, maybe guys that haven’t deserved innings, but we still need to see what they can do.”

The starting rotation is also seeing different pitchers vying for roles behind junior T.J. Sikkema and senior Tyler LaPlante, who will each make starts Friday and Saturday against Central Arkansas and South Dakota State, respectively.

Junior transfers Jacob Cantleberry and Art Joven will both pitch this weekend in relief. One of the two will be the third starter for the Northwestern series March 8-10.

Missouri will travel to Conway, Arkansas, for games Friday against Central Arkansas at 6:30 p.m. and Saturday against South Dakota State at 3 p.m.

Edited by Emily Leiker | eleiker@themaneater.com

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