COLUMBIA — With all the star power on the Missouri Tigers’ pitching staff, Ian Berger occasionally gets lost in the shuffle.
Despite going 5-1 last year with a 3.96 ERA, Berger was expected to move from starting on Sundays to starting against lesser teams in mid-week games, and found himself on the outside looking in at a spot in the rotation for conference play. Fast-forward a month, and Berger’s 0.39 ERA reads like a misprint, and the coaches won’t be able to let him out of the Hall of Fame, let alone a conference rotation.
Saturday evening at Taylor Stadium, Berger displayed his latest bit of brilliance, throwing eight scoreless innings in the Tigers’ 10-0 win against the Toledo Rockets.
“I tried to beat out Crow today, but I didn’t get a chance,” Berger said of his career-best nine strikeout performance. It was the second consecutive game a Missouri starter set a new career high in strikeouts en route to a shutout of the Rockets. Aaron Crow did both on Friday.
“I feed off of Aaron’s energy; Aaron feeds off my energy; Kyle’s the same way,” Berger said. “ We’re all trying to beat out each other every week. We’re all trying to be pitcher of the week every week.
“When Aaron goes out and strikes out 15, I basically said, ‘I don’t know if I can beat that, but I’m going to give it a good shot.’”
Berger made his bid by attacking the Toledo hitters with his change-up and nasty curveball early in the count, taking advantage of the same aggressiveness that Crow had the day before.
Missouri coach Tim Jamieson said the duo’s differences made it doubly difficult.
“You’ve got a guy with great stuff, and you’ve got a guy who’s more of a finesse guy,” Jamieson said. “It makes it tough on the hitters to see two guys like that.”
While Berger’s second win of the season was obviously a bright spot, the Tigers’(11-2) offense gave Jamieson a cushion to put in some younger players that haven’t gotten an opportunity was important as well. When Greg Folgia entered in the ninth, the Tigers’ were playing almost entirely with reserves.
“It’s the first time that we’ve been able to spread a game like that and feel under control,” Jamieson said. “With the starting pitching, the way Ian was throwing, it was an opportunity to get some guys out there, and they responded really well.
“We’re going to need those guys to develop, and we’re going to need the depth. We feel like there are guys on the bench that are as good, and maybe better, than the guys we’re playing. We need to get those guys involved.”
With starter Rick Zagone unable to pitch because of weakness in his shoulder, a bullpen that hasn’t seen much action lately should get it’s opportunity tomorrow, when the Tigers and the Rockets play a doubleheader, beginning at 11 a.m. at Taylor Stadium. Kyle Gibson is expected to pitch the first game for Missouri. Who the Tigers use in the second game, which will begin one half hour after the first game ends, is undecided, and will likely depend upon who is used in the first contest.