LAWRENCE, Kan. — If a relief pitcher tells you that starting is never on their mind, chances are they’re lying.
Although a pitcher has a lot of intensity when he takes the mound as a reliever, there is nothing quite like starting your own game.
You get the most attention, you know that you’re going to pitch, and you’re in control of how long you’re going to be in there.
The Missouri baseball team, which does not have a consistent starting rotation, started closing pitcher Jeff Emens in Saturday’s game at Kansas, making Emens the ninth Tigers pitcher to start a game this season.
Emens was good, but not great. He threw three solid innings, but was roughed up in the fourth. After Emens exited, the Tigers called on Phil McCormick, who couldn't stop the onslaught fast enough, and the Tigers gave up six runs in the inning.
McCormick left the game after the fifth and Kelly Fick took over for the rest of the game.
While his teammates struggled, in particular with finding the zone, Fick was excellent. He kept the Tigers in the game, gave up just one unearned run and put a halt to a hot Kansas offense. Fick said he didn’t let a smaller strike zone interfere with his approach.
“I just came in and attacked,” Fick said. “Just being able to locate and keep them off balance. I was able to have success for a couple of innings.”
The one unearned run that Fick gave up was just enough to push the Jayhawks past the Tigers 9-8, and Fick was charged with the loss. However, Fick's performance could make him the next Missouri pitcher to get a chance at starting.
“It’s hard not to think about it when so many guys are being used for that role,” Fick said. “But my job right now is to come out of the bullpen when my team needs me.”
Fick and McCormick are the only two regular relievers who have not had a chance to start. They have also been Missouri’s most consistent relievers this season.
Fick might be too good out of the bullpen to move to the starting rotation. Catcher Brett Nicholas said he gets excited when he sees Fick coming into games.
“He’s phenomenal,” Nicholas said. “He’s been that way all season. His stats show it. The way he comes in every single game. He’s really the go-to guy out of the pen right now.”
Nicholas said he has no doubt Fick has the ability to pitch in the rotation, but that is a decision that only coaches can make.
Coach Tim Jamieson has not been happy with his rotation during the past couple weeks. He said that junior pitcher Nick Tepesch is the only set-in-stone starter, and it will likely stay that way with other guys getting spot starts.
“I think we’re probably going to have to staff games really, at least one of the three, if not two of the three from here on out, because of the depth of our staff,” Jamieson said. “We only have one starter right now.”
The Tigers (24-21, 7-12 Big 12) will try to avoid being swept when they play Kansas (28-19-1, 9-10-1 Big 12) at 1 p.m., Sunday.