COLUMBIA — Ask five different people to speculate which nine Tigers will take the field on opening day for Missouri baseball and you’ll get five different answers. With intense competition for spots all over the field, particularly in the outfield and on the pitching staff, only one thing is for certain: pitcher Rob Zastryzny is “the guy.”
A 6-foot-3 lefty from Corpus Christi, Texas, Zastryzny has been the Tigers’ most consistent arm since he joined the pitching staff in 2011 as a freshman. He started a team-high 17 games in 2012, posting an ERA of 3.80 and a record of 5-5. Still, Zastryzny’s junior season brings with it higher expectations and greater responsibility.
“This is the first year I started as ‘the guy’ on Day One,” Zastryzny said.
In 2011, Zastryzny seized the Friday-night starting job midseason from highly-touted transfer Matt Stites before relinquishing the top spot to Eric Anderson, who returned to the lineup after recovering from shoulder surgery. Last season, the coaching staff again expected Anderson to carry the load before he sustained a season-ending elbow injury. Again, Zastryzny moved to the top of the rotation.
When Missouri took the field for its first intrasquad scrimmage of the season Friday, Zastryzny assumed his position as the first Tiger to take the mound. He threw three shutout innings, allowing only a single hit.
“I thought Rob got better as the game went on,” head coach Tim Jamieson said. “He’s made progress every year in every area and he’s just taking another step forward so far this year.”
Zastryzny’s performance on the mound is only part of the reason Jamieson is confident in his top starter; the rest of it stems from Zastryzny’s increased poise.
“He’s always been a guy who prepares very well and works very hard, but there’s a little different air of confidence this year,” Jamieson said. “I think it’s a combination of he’s throwing really well, so that’s helped the confidence, but also it’s his third year in the program, so he knows a little bit better.”
Zastryzny’s attitude has impacted his teammates.
Newcomer Keaton Steele, who hit a two-run home run in the scrimmage, raved about Zastryzny's role as a mentor, rattling off the types of questions he routinely asks the Texan in the dugout.
“Hey what’d you see here?”
“What’d you see there?”
“I feel this.”
“Is that right?”
Zastryzny's answers have resonated with Steele.
“He’s just been that steady voice in my head that motivates me,” Steele said.
The Tigers begin their season on Feb. 15 at Southern Mississippi with Zastryzny on the mound and host their first home game on March 1 against Northwestern.