COLUMBIA — Missouri starting pitcher Nick Tepesch goes into this season with perhaps the most favorable and unfavorable spot to have.
Tepesch, a junior, is set to take over as the Tigers’ Friday night pitcher. Each of Missouri’s past three aces have been first-round picks in the Major League draft. Last year’s ace Kyle Gibson was drafted 22nd overall by the Minnesota Twins in June.
Missouri competes in the Collegiate Cactus Classic against Gonzaga, Washington and New Mexico State on Feb. 19 and 20 in Tucson, Ariz.
Tepesch said he is doing his best to not let the pressure and attention affect him.
“I’m definitely ready for the challenge,” Tepesch said. “I don’t overanalyze it or do any of that stuff. If that’s my role, I’m going to perfect my role and do the best I can to help the team.”
Tepesch is the only player who comes into this season with starting experience. He started 14 games last season, finishing 6-5 with a not-so-impressive 6.27 earned run average.
At times, Tepesch looked like a potential ace, blowing power pitches past his opponents. Other times, he just looked overmatched. If Tepesch wants to take over as Missouri’s top pitcher, he will have to give the Tigers a chance to win every time out.
“It was definitely up and down,” Tepesch said about last season. “I always try to learn from my mistakes, games that don’t go so well. I’m always trying to learn from that and get better from that. If anything, it helped me.”
Missouri coach Tim Jamieson said it is unfair to compare Tepesch to his predecessors, and he’s not quite ready to label Tepesch the permanent Friday night starter just yet.
“He’s still got to earn that,” Jamieson said. “We don’t have a lot of returning players. They have a leg up because they have more experience. We expect him to, but I’m not sure we’re ready to anoint him with that yet.”
Other than Tepesch, the Tigers' starting rotation has not been decided. Jamieson expects juniors Aaron Blunt and Jeff Scardino, sophomore Ryan Clubb, and freshman Eric Anderson to compete for three spots in the rotation. Blunt and Scardino are both transfers, leaving Clubb as the only candidate who pitched for the Tigers last year.
Junior Brad Buehler returns as Missouri's closer. Buehler said he wanted to start, but he thinks he can do the most for the Tigers in relief.
“My whole career, I always started,” Buehler said. “The closer role I stepped into last year, and I love it. I love the pressure situations. I love what I can step in and do for the team. Anything I can for the team, I’m up for the job.”
Buehler said that for the players who don't start, there are always options.
“Whenever you come into this, you never know what you’re going to expect,” Buehler said. “You’re going to want to play no matter what, so you’re going to take any position you can get and then build off of that. It’s something you’ve got to work at.”
Jamieson said he hopes he will not have to use a different pitcher each inning like the Tigers often did last season. However, the practice allowed a lot of players, especially the older relievers, to get experience, and Jamieson said the experienced relievers will play important roles.
“I think we’re going to have some depth on the mound,” Jamieson said. “It may take us a while to figure out who does what, when. The pitching’s probably a little bit more resolved than the positional set.”
The Tigers are scheduled to play their first game against Gonzaga at 2 p.m. Feb. 19 in Tucson, Ariz. They will compete in the Collegiate Cactus Classic with Gonzaga, Washington and New Mexico State. Tepesch will likely take the mound Friday. After that, nothing is certain.