Inconsistent pitching dooms Missouri baseball to opening-series loss against GCU

The Tigers' starting pitchers were welcomed to Phoenix with 75-degree weather and hot Grand Canyon bats.

Missouri baseball starters pitched just 10-and-two-thirds innings in four games against Grand Canyon University this weekend.

Before the series, coach Steve Bieser said that pitching would become a strength when “we’re back to 100% with our guys.”

But in the final three games, Missouri’s starters pitched just three innings or less in each appearance.

Walks plagued the Tigers. Their pitching staff walked 27 batters against GCU, including eight in Sunday afternoon’s series finale. In the first inning of that game, Bieser’s team had given up two walks, while starter Trae Robertson did not record a single out.

Robertson, a junior, made his fourth start with the Tigers on Sunday and his first since 2019. Robertson hadn’t had many opportunities in the past, appearing in just two games out of the bullpen in 2020 and wasn’t expected to start on Sunday. Senior Konnor Ash posted a 4.15 ERA in the shortened 2020 campaign and many expected him to make his first start of the season against GCU. Instead, Bieser gave Robertson the opportunity.

“We're going to give guys that have earned that opportunity to come in and throw the opportunity to do just that,” Bieser said. “I think we’ve got a lot of the good three-inning guys.”

One player who took advantage of his opportunity to pitch was Spencer Miles. He pitched five-and-a-third innings and allowed nine hits, five runs and three strikeouts. While not his best work, the sophomore showed signs of growth and improvement.

“Spencer is more than a three-inning guy,” Bieser said. “He's a guy that's earned that role to be that Friday night guy, to be the guy that's going to secure a great start every weekend. He's not built up to throw seven, eight or nine innings right now. He's built up to be a solid six for us and then we've got to turn to somebody else.”

Miles developed his pitch arsenal over the offseason, where he added a slider and developed his curveball to have more late-action movement. Overall, he said he just wants to become more of a presence on the hill.

“For me, I think it's really been about gaining weight and just becoming more sturdy on the mound,” Miles said. “I've always found confidence in my pitch ability, being able to throw strikes with many pitches.”

On Friday, Miles earned three strikeouts, each on 1-2 or 2-2 counts. His curveball quickly became a put-out pitch that would be useful in 0-2 or 1-2 counts.

In 2020, Miles struck out 11 batters in 15.0 innings. Despite past successes, the Lopes’ hitters made it difficult, putting good swings on the ball and they didn’t swing at pitches just off the plate.

Missouri graduate student Spencer Juergens and freshman Zach Hise brought much-needed stability to the pitching staff during Saturday night’s 9-7 win.

Juergens relieved starter Seth Halvorsen, who went just three innings, and gave up five runs on five hits and five walks. The graduate student promptly went 4 ⅓ innings, gave up just two runs and secured the win.

“We needed a pitching performance, and we had a guy step up and give us a pitching performance,” Bieser said in a press release.

Freshman Hise secured the save, allowing just one hit.

The Tigers’ pitchers need to adjust to longer outings and limit walks. Pitching in the cold weather of Missouri will be an adjustment, but they must utilize their non-conference schedule to decide on who their starting rotation will be for future Southeastern Conference matchups.

Edited by Kyle Pinnell | kpinnell@themaneater.com

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