COLUMBIA, Mo. — When Missouri baseball coach Tim Jamieson lost pitching coach Matt Hobbs to Wake Forest last August, the Tigers’ longtime skipper knew the perfect candidate to take over the staff: Tim Jamieson.
“I try to hire the best coaches that I can, and we only get three full-time coaches in baseball, so I’ve always mixed and matched,” said Jamieson, now in his 21st season as Mizzou’s head coach.
To replace Hobbs and ignite a feeble offense, Jamieson hired former Mizzou All-American outfielder Hunter Mense as hitting coach. That left the pitching coach duties to Jamieson, who held the same position long ago under former head coach Gene McArtor.
The early results have been staggering: The Tigers are 10-1, their best start since 1985, and receiving votes in the USA Today coaches poll, armed by pitching that ranks among the best in the country through the season’s first three weeks.
Backed by near flawless infield defense — and helped, no less, by a soft early schedule — Missouri leads Division I teams in WHIP (0.79) and ranks second in ERA (1.22).
Perhaps it’s been MU’s influx of arms or Jamieson’s magic touch — or a combination of both.
“We’ve got some really gifted guys,” Jamieson said. “It’s a good year to become the pitching coach because they’re making me look pretty smart right now.”
Will it last? The answer will eventually unfold across diamonds throughout the Southeastern Conference. The past two years the Tigers trudged into SEC play having already been slapped around by non-conference opponents. Missouri was 5-7 heading into SEC play in 2013 and 7-7 last year. Since joining the SEC, Mizzou is a league-worst 16-44 against SEC competition. Last year was especially troubling: After winning two of three against Kentucky to close the first half of league play, the Tigers lost their final 15 SEC games.
Jamieson hopes this year’s strong start, albeit against the likes of Iona, Texas A&M Corpus Christi, Sam Houston State, Purdue and Illinois-Chicago, sends the Tigers into league play with a more resilient mentality.
After this weekend’s three-game series against Milwaukee, Missouri opens SEC play at Georgia next Friday.
“You’d like to say, well, if we play well but don’t win we gain confidence,” Jamieson said. “But the reality is if you win and play poorly you’re probably going to gain more confidence. We’ve played well, but that was the intent of the schedule, to get off to a good start. … There’s no question this is a more confident group of kids right now, and the wins are a big part of that.”
The pitching staff overhaul started with junior righthander Reggie McClain (2-0), a 22-year-old junior college transfer who began his career at Georgia in 2012. Shoulder subluxation in his pitching arm sidelined McClain for his senior high school season at Johns Creek, Georgia, and he continued to recover while sitting out his freshman season at UGA. He resurfaced at State College of Florida in Bradenton, where last year he went 6-2 in 11 starts with a 1.90 ERA. McClain, a control pitcher whose fastball can graze 90 mph, jumped at the chance to headline Mizzou’s staff and rejoin the SEC.
In three starts he’s pitched 24 innings, allowed one earned run, struck out 24 and walked three. He’s already earned SEC pitcher of the week honors — twice.
“He throws all of his pitches pretty much where he wants it,” third baseman Josh Lester said. “A lot of ground balls all over the place. He’s fun to play behind because he works pretty quick. He’s in the zone all the time. He keeps his pitch count down, throws strikes and pitches to contact.”
Right behind McClain in the rotation, 6-foot-5 freshman Tanner Houck (3-0, 1.86 ERA), a righthander from Collinsville, has given the Tigers a potent counterpunch with 10 strikeouts and one walk through three starts.
Mizzou’s season — and, possibly, Jamieson’s future — could hinge on the Tigers’ progress in the batter’s box. A punchless offense ranked No. 250 or worse among 296 Division I teams in most hitting categories last season, including batting average (.242, No. 276), slugging (.309, No. 276), on-base percentage (.327, No. 260) and runs per game (3.7, No. 276). Through 11 games, the Tigers are hitting just .245. Lester believes the bats will warm up with the temperatures, but for now the Tigers will rely on pitching and defense.
Jamieson’s contract expires after the season, and with a new athletics director set to replace Mike Alden this summer, another losing season could signal changes for a program that recently spent $4 million in renovations to Taylor Stadium.
But so far, so good.
“Even though we’re not [hitting], we’re still winning,” Lester said. “And that makes it a lot easier to swallow.”
This article was written by Dave Matter from St. Louis Post-Dispatch and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.