Missouri’s pitching staff holds key to success in 2016

Houck and McClain look to continue where they left off.

Sophomore pitcher Tanner Houck is confident.

As the No. 1 prospect in the 2017 MLB Draft, as well as Missouri’s lone consensus 2016 All-American and Team USA’s ace, he has every right to be. Now he is stepping up to his next challenge: leading the Missouri baseball team to a postseason regional berth.

“I feel really confident and everybody in that locker room does too,” Houck said. “I feel like we’ve worked our tails off all off season.”

Missouri enters the 2016 season with a formidable starting rotation, returning its top two starters in Houck and redshirt senior Reggie McClain. The two posted a combined 3.53 ERA while also racking up 171 combined strikeouts.

“That’s a great thing to have,” Houck said. “Having two returning starters is huge. (We) did really well last year, and our defense is pretty much the same as last year too, so I think all those contributing components give us a chance to be successful as a team.”

Another component that will help Houck be successful this upcoming season is his demeanor. For all that he brings to the table, Houck’s teammates and coaches are most impressed with his competitiveness and drive.

“He’s a bulldog, and he’s not scared of any hitter or any stage, and he’s not going to back down,” junior shortstop Ryan Howard said. “He was a freshman last year, and he came out there and acted like he was a fourth-year, fifth-year senior. That’s just how he is. He trusts his stuff and that plays for him. I’m expecting huge things for him again this year.”

Despite having two dominant pitchers heading his rotation, coach Tim Jamieson is hesitant to label his pitching staff as one of the best in the Southeastern Conference.

“Florida has a really good combination,” Jamieson said. “Vanderbilt is going to have good arms. LSU has got the (Alex) Lange kid back from last year. In our league, you’re going to face really good guys on Friday and Saturday, and you’re going to face really good bullpens, so I don’t look at it as an advantage over other SEC teams.”

As good as Missouri’s top two starters are, the third position is still up in the air. Senior Austin Tribby and freshman Michael Plassmeyer are the two pitchers competing for the spot.

Tribby, while experienced, has mainly worked out of the bullpen for the Tigers. He gained starting experience this past summer in the Cape Cod League, where he was named to the West All-Star team.

Despite possibly needing Tribby in the starting rotation, Jamieson may be forced to keep him in the bullpen, as potential freshman closer Grant Macciocchi has had issues with shoulder tenderness recently.

“Tribby may have to spend a little bit of time in the bullpen to give it some experience at first,” Jamieson said. “Tribby might pitch out of the bullpen on Friday and Saturday, and if we need him to pitch, he can start on Sunday. His value is there because of his experience as both a reliever and a starter.”

On the other side of the equation is Plassmeyer.

Plassmeyer graduated from DeSmet Jesuit High School in St. Louis in 2015, where he earned the honor of being the No. 4-ranked left-handed pitcher in the state. Despite not being a fireball pitcher, Plassmeyer finds success through the more practicable factors of pitching.

“He can really pitch,” Jamieson said. “He changes speeds, he has great command and great poise. He’ll throw harder as he gets older, but his velocity is not the key to his success right now.”

A bigger enigma than Missouri’s third starting spot is its bullpen. The relievers lost Andrew Schwaab and possibly Tribby, leaving the bullpen relatively thin and inexperienced.

“That’s probably the biggest question mark that we have,” Jamieson said. “Cole Bartlett is probably the more experienced guy.”

The good news for Jamieson’s Tigers is that his starting rotation should provide his bullpen with a solid cushion.

“If Reggie struggles on Friday, which he didn’t do much last year, we will have to use some of the bullpen,” Jamieson said. “Tanner doesn’t use very much of the bullpen on Saturday.”

Missouri knows that its backbone will be its pitching staff. To be successful in 2016, the Tigers will need their entire staff to function in top gear.

“We’re going to have to turn to them, and I’m confident that they’re going to be able to get it done,” Howard said.

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