Relief pitchers keep the mood light for Missouri baseball team

Thursday, March 18, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT
Jeff Emens, who has been working as the Tigers' closer, showed off his versatility when he threw 5 2/3 innings in Missouri’s game on Friday.

COLUMBIA — If you’re a freshman on the Missouri baseball team, you better show up to the ballpark when you’re supposed to.

Over the rainy weekend, some of the Tigers freshmen didn’t show up early to remove the tarp from the field before the game. Junior relief pitcher Phil McCormick made the freshman who weren't there sit in the cold tub for 15 minutes after the game.

McCormick said he wasn’t completely cruel to them.

“If they went all the way under, they could be done in two minutes,” McCormick said.

The prank is not a surprise, coming from McCormick, whose role in Missouri’s bullpen is situational lefty/comedian.

McCormick’s easy-going nature has had positive effects for him and his teammates. McCormick, along with Tyler Clark and Jeff Emens are all enjoying strong starts to the season as the Tigers’ premier late-inning relievers.

McCormick said even though he likes to be goofy before he enters a game, things change when the submarine thrower takes the mound.

“I just take a meathead approach,” McCormick said. “If a catcher throws down a sign, I’ll say, ‘Yeah, I’ll throw it.’ I don’t like thinking on the mound. I try to be real cerebral before I get out there, but once I get out there it’s just game-mode.”

Missouri coach Tim Jamieson said he hopes to use McCormick to clean up a messy inning, Clark as the guy to get the key strikeout and Emens as the team's closer. He said the early success the three are experiencing is good for the entire pitching staff.

“I think that success breeds success,” Jamieson said. “There’s also the competition factor. They want each other to do well, but they also want to do better than the guy before them.”

Clark and Emens are not nearly as vocal as McCormick, but Jamieson said they both get the job done when he asks them. Emens said the different personalities go well with the different types of pitchers Missouri has in its bullpen.

“The biggest thing for us is the versatility that we have,” Emens said. “The lefties that can spot up and the righties that can come in right after them. I think it’s just the mixture of different kinds of arms we have, and that’s what makes us most effective.”

Emens, who has been working as the closer, showed his versatility when he threw 5 2/3 innings in Missouri’s game on Friday.

Clark said he and his teammates are embracing their roles, and that they are determined to not be responsible for blown leads.

“Obviously, I feel really good about my stuff," Clark said. "I feel fortunate I can come in in those situations and hopefully get that strikeout. But at the same time, a ground ball is just as important.”

Clark said he thinks Emens is the best pitcher for the closer's job, even though Clark is the hardest thrower of the three and fits the mold of the traditional fastball-throwing closer. He said while the team is competitive, no one hopes for bad outings.

“We don’t wish for one of our other teammates to do bad or anything,” Clark said. “We’re all very supportive and we are a big family. I want Phil (McCormick) and Zack Hardoin to succeed just as much as I do.”

Still, though the group has become close, not all squabbles have been eliminated.

“Phil’s (McCormick) girlfriend always cooks him dinner and he never invites me over, so that’s a pet peeve with me,” Clark said.

McCormick has a response though, “She’s too good a cook to just spoil him with it all the time.”

The Tigers (7-6) open a four-game series with North Dakota at 6 p.m., Thursday at Taylor Stadium.


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