Missouri baseball's Brett Graves finds groove on the mound

Thursday, March 6, 2014 | 10:16 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — When Brett Graves takes the mound Friday for Missouri's home opener, he'll be starting the next part of his progression. 

It's the same progression Missouri coach Tim Jamieson saw with notable alumi — guys such as Max Scherzer and Aaron Crow — who come to the program with a big arm, but a bit lacking in the mental side of pitching.

At some point, something clicks, and they find the success needed to be high draft picks and all-conference players. Graves' last two starts show that the right-hander might have found that understanding.

"We thought Brett started to show signs of it last year, but this year, he's gone to another level," Jamieson said. "He's a lot like what those guys were doing at different points in their career."

Graves was a 26th-round pick by St. Louis in the 2011 MLB Draft out of St. Charles' Francis Howell High School. His talent was apparent his freshman year as he hit the mid-90s with his fastball and earned some midweek and Sunday starts. 

But Graves' inexperience showed in his control. He hit 10 batters in 47 innings pitched and had a 30-to-28 strikeout to walk ratio in 2012. He finished that season with a 6.32 ERA.

Graves moved up to the Saturday starter role in 2013 as a sophomore. His overall numbers were solid — a 3.80 ERA with a .283 opponent batting average. Graves had several good outings, including allowing one earned run in a nine-inning complete game against South Carolina. 

He also got shelled on a couple occasions. He gave up nine runs to Vanderbilt in 4 1/3 innings and five runs to Georgia in 3 2/3. Graves then finished the season with five solid frames against Kentucky and had a strong summer in the New England Collegiate Baseball League. 

John Miles bested Graves in the preseason to get the Friday starter spot vacated due to senior Eric Anderson's injury, but Graves' last two outings have left little doubt of the Tigers' best starter at this point. 

He's thrown 15 shutout innings in a row: seven against Wake Forest on Feb. 22 and eight against Illinois-Chicago on March 1. In that span, Graves allowed five hits, and his fastball hit the mid-90s in both starts. On Monday, he was named co-Southeastern Conference Pitcher of the Week.

At 6-foot-1, Graves doesn't have an imposing build for a starting pitcher. He gets his outs with a mix of his fastball, cutter, changeup and curveball. He has struck out 15  batters in 19 2/3 innings and allowed just nine hits.

Catcher Dylan Kelly has seen Graves improve his consistency this season.

"Sometimes he could throw a curveball when he wanted last year, and it was sometimes OK," Kelly said. "This year, he can throw it whenever he wants, and it's really good."

As Graves gains experience and confidence, he's more likely to grow into the frontline starter Missouri wants. Jamieson said he hopes to have the pitching rotation set by the Tigers' series with Tennessee, the team's Southeastern Conference opener, and Graves is putting himself in position to be the Friday night guy.

"Whatever he's done, he needs to repeat it," Jamieson said. "He's going to have days when he doesn't feel his best, (but) he's still got to find a way to be that No. 1 guy."

Graves left Thursday's practice before speaking to the Missourian.

Supervising editor is Erik Hall.  

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