Tepesch takes over as Tigers' starter

Tuesday, March 10, 2009 | 1:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:04 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Nick Tepesch struck out a career-high 12 batters in Sunday's win against Ball State.

COLUMBIA — When Nick Tepesch takes the mound for the Missouri baseball team, the sound of his first pitch reaching the catcher's glove can turn heads.

After that, it's his ace stuff.

Tuesday's game

Western Illinois(0-6)
at Missouri (6-8)

WHEN: 6:30 p.m.

WHERE: Taylor Stadium


Or, it falls apart. 

Through three starts this season, there's been a mix of good, bad and between for Tepesch, a sophomore. When he enrolled at MU after high school, everyone immediately thought he would be the next ace, following Max Scherzer, Aaron Crow and Kyle Gibson.

At Blue Springs High School, Tepesch was named player of the year by the Kansas City Star, Gatorade and Louisville Slugger. He also earned a spot on the Louisville Slugger All-America team.

On June 9, 2007, the day of the MLB draft, Tepesch told the first scout who called his house that he was going to Missouri and wasn't going to sign with an MLB team even though "Baseball America" had ranked him the 33rd best pitching prospect in the country for that draft.

In his freshman year, Tepesch had four saves as a relief pitcher in February and March before struggling in April. His only start last year was the final regular-season game against Nebraska, in which he pitched 3 2/3 innings and gave up one earned run.

"I learned how to warm-up faster coming out of the pen," Tepesch said. "I struggled a little bit but I learned a lot."

Tepesch's struggles showed up again in his first start this season. In four innings, he gave up 11 hits and nine runs. That's when former Missouri pitcher Aaron Crow told pitching coach Tony Vitello that Tepesch needed to do more with less.

"I thought I was throwing well, but I didn't hit my spots like I should have," Tepesch said. 

Besides his fastball, Tepesch has three off-speed pitches: a slider, a change-up and a curve ball. In his first start of the season, his off-speed pitches weren't working and he looked like a sophomore — not ready to be a weekend starter in the Big 12.

"If you're not hitting your spots, no matter how hard you're throwing, you're going to get hit around. I would leave it over the middle of the plate instead of hitting the corners," Tepesch said. "When you're not spotting up your off-speed pitches, you're going to have to rely on your fastball. They knew it was coming."

In his second start against nationally ranked Arizona State, Tepesch's struggles disappeared. He went 6 1/3 innings, allowing only one run and striking out eight Sun Devils. The Tigers entered the game on a seven-game losing streak and couldn't afford to come back to Columbia having lost their past eight games. Tepesch earned the win and everyone thought the Tigers' next ace was back.

Catcher Trevor Coleman noticed the difference in Tepesch's second start.

"He was able to locate all his pitches and that made him more effective setting up pitches and getting guys out," Coleman said. "He really beared down with guys on base. There were situations in that game where he had guys on second and third in scoring position and he kicked it into another gear and he was able to shut them down."

Sunday against Ball State, Tepesch still looked a lot like an ace except for three pitches that resulted in home runs for the Cardinals. Other than that, Tepesch struck out a career-high 12 batters and left many of them looking silly, making them miss badly at his off-speed pitches.

"I thought I threw really well, just a couple of mistakes,” Tepesch said. “Three mistakes, I would say. They were the home runs. But other than that, I thought I pitched really well.”

On Sunday, Tepesch threw his fastball 92 mph with regularity and he had control of his off-speed pitches, which left the Ball State batters off balance and swinging wildly.

"He did a great job after the four runs that they scored," Jamieson said.  "He was a different guy those last two innings." 

Tepesch was even able to get ahead of the Ball State hitters in the count. Pitching coach Tony Vitello said he has noticed Tepesch's improvement.

"I saw a mix of the two outings," Vitello said. "I saw a little bit of the Gonzaga outing and a little bit of the Arizona State, but more of the second outing, which means he's making progress. 

"You take away one pitch he threw, that 0-2 fastball home run and its a phenomenal outing."

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