Like Rivera, Starcevich excels at closer

Adam Shay, Baseball Reporter

Future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera is revered as the greatest closer in MLB history, compiling 652 saves, and is even more so an inspiration to pitchers of this generation.

One of those aspiring pitchers that has seen Rivera as a role model is Eastern’s senior closer Michael Starcevich. By studying how Rivera pitched, Starcevich’s work ethic toward following his career in later years has showed on the field. 

Starcevich leads the Panthers with four saves this season, putting him fourth in the OVC and currently sixth in the Eastern record books. He has modeled his game off Rivera in every way possible, ranging from specific dominant pitches as well as his killer mentality. 

“Rivera has always been an aggressor and that’s what I try to be,” Starcevich said. “Every closer has a mentor of Rivera.”

During his career, Rivera only knew how to win; accomplishing five World Series in his 19-year career, being voted MVP twice in the American League Championship series. Through composure, Rivera has set an example for Starcevich in every aspect of his game.

Specifically, MLB players have incredible poise and professionalism whenever they go out and pitch. Starcevich chose the perfect closer to model his career after, altering his game to become the next Rivera. 

“You watch a big-league player; their demeanor and mentality is different,” Starcevich said. “You can always look up to that and see how they approach each batter, each pitch, and base your game off that.”

Through seven or eight innings, Starcevich relies on the Panthers’ offense to have a lead, setting him up to bring home a win for his team. Eastern saw potential in Starcevich when they recruited him junior year, transferring from Indian Hill Community College.

They recruited him specifically to be the closer, despite having a past of starting in high school. As a closer, with the game on the line, the only thing that matters is coming in and winning the game by avoiding walking batters. 

 “Try to throw as many strikes as I can,” Starcevich said. “The most important thing as a closer is coming in and throwing strikes and I knew I could be successful.”

Over 19 years, Rivera made a career off having only three pitches: his two-seam and four-seam fastball, and his revolutionary cutter. Unlike any other closer in history, that cutter baffled hitters throughout his career, commonly seen as the best pitch in baseball.

Starcevich also has three pitches; his fastball, a newly developed Vulcan change-up and a slider that brings opposing hitters to their knees. The new change-up has helped Starcevich catch batters off guard.

“On an 0-2 pitch, my slider is still my first option, but a change-up keeps them off balance because I do primarily throw my slider and fastball,” Starcevich said. “When I mix in the change-up well, it usually is effective.”

His Vulcan change-up is a hybrid pitch because of the unique finger alignment. Starcevich takes his three fingers and lays them across the seams, then modifies it so it’s a mix between a Vulcan and a circle change. 

What also has improved Starcevich’s game from last year has been his increase in velocity. This year, he has relied on his fastball a lot more than usual because now, Starcevich tops out at 91 mph, but usually throwing between 88-90 mph. 

Nevertheless, Starcevich and Rivera are pitchers that want the ball in the 9th, when games are decided by the ultimate battle; the batter and pitcher. Both pitchers want the pressure and going by stats, they have made successful careers from big-time moments.

As for the upcoming weekend, Eastern will take on Southeast Missouri on their home field in a three-game series from Friday to Sunday. The Panthers are fresh off a sweep from Tennessee Tech; however, they are well-rested as their last two games were cancelled.

The first game on Friday will be played at 6 p.m., followed by Saturday’s game at 2 p.m. and Sunday’s at 1 p.m. With a 1-8 record in the OVC, the Panthers look to climb up the rankings after this weekend’s series. 

Adam Shay can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]