By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — On an afternoon when his team lost for the first time this season, UVa baseball coach Brian O’Connor still had reason to smile Sunday.
He saw Scott Silverstein pitch for the first time as a Cavalier.
Even better, he saw Silverstein retire each of the three batters he faced.
“It’s one thing getting your first opportunity. It’s another thing getting your first opportunity and going out there and pitching great baseball,” O’Connor said after Virginia’s 4-3 loss to East Carolina before 2,914 at Davenport Field.
“That was very, very encouraging to see what he did in a big environment, when the game’s on the line, and that will obviously help moving forward.”
Silverstein, 6-6, 235-pound left-hander, was considered one of the nation’s top recruits as a senior at St. John’s College High School in Washington, D.C. But shoulder problems derailed his career, and he came into this season, his third at UVa, still waiting to make his first appearance on the mound in a college game.
A torn labrum in his left shoulder had required two operations, the first in June 2008, the second in October 2009. Silverstein appeared in 19 games as a UVa freshman in ’09 — O’Connor used him as a first baseman, designated hitter and pinch hitter — and then missed all of last season.
He came into the new year cleared to play, but he was a spectactor for the Cavaliers’ first six games this season. In the seventh game, Silverstein got his chance.
With none on and one out in the eighth inning and UVa down 4-2, Silverstein came in to face Ben Fultz, who had singled in the second.
In the dugout, O’Connor was nervous. Imagine how No. 29 felt on the mound.
“I was shaking a little bit,” Silverstein admitted later.
“Obviously I haven’t been out there in a while. Really I was just thinking about throwing strikes. I didn’t want my first outing to be a four-pitch walk and you’re out of the game. I wanted to have some success, and luckily I did.”
Silverstein struck out Fultz. He retired Tim Younger on a grounder for the third out. Silverstein opened the ninth by retiring Philip Clark on a fly ball, then gave way to closer Branden Kline.
In high school, Silverstein’s fastball routinely topped 90 mph. He’s yet to regain that velocity, he said, “but I felt like I could get people out, even with subpar stuff. Right now I’m still working to get back. Hopefully I can get back to full health, full strength, and it’s just a matter of time.”
For a pitcher recovering from a torn labrum, Silverstein said, doctors “say the first thing that comes back is the velocity, and then it’s the feel for the pitches. For me it’s kind of gone the other way. I’ve sort of been able to find the zone and work different pitches, and then the velocity is starting to come. I think the game atmosphere has a lot to do with it, because you get the nerves and you get the adrenaline going, and [the ball] comes out of your hand a little better.”
Because of his shoulder injury, Silverstein did not pitch for St. John’s as a 12th-grader. Which meant his most recent appearance in an official game had come in 2007.
“He’s had some unfortunate things happen to him,” O’Connor said. “That’s life. That’s part of the game. He’s worked really hard to get to this point, and he’s deserving of that opportunity. I’m sure he was wondering at what point his opportunity would come, but I knew it would come soon.
“I’m sure that Scott was really excited. It wouldn’t have surprised me if he would have thrown the ball in the back screen. I’d be excited. You’ve waited so long for that kind of opportunity, and what a great situation to get your first opportunity. And then to go out and do the job like he did, against some very good hitters, I think really is a testament to who he is and what his character is, in that he didn’t back down at all from that situation.”
The loss ended UVa’s streak of 36 consecutive wins in February games at Davenport. But Virginia, ranked No. 13 nationally by Baseball America, beat East Carolina 10-1 on Friday and 4-3 on Saturday, and O’Connor liked much of what he saw from his club in the series.
“That pitching staff that we faced this weekend is a pitching staff like one of the top in [the ACC],” he said, “so it’s good for our players to play great people like we have the last two weekends. And to be standing here 6-1 and have played pretty good baseball for the first seven games, you feel good about it.
“There’s things that we need to clean up, and that’s why you play the whole season. But I’m encouraged that there’s some guys that are really stepping forward out of our bullpen, that are starting to show that they can pitch in some roles for us, and that’s going to be important. We’ve got a couple of other things to get figured out, but I’m pretty encouraged by what I see.”
East Carolina (4-2) scored all of its runs in the second Sunday. Designated hitter Chase McDonald led off the inning by drawing a walk off UVa starter Cody Winiarski, the first issued by a UVa pitcher in this series, and went to second on a sacrifice bunt. Fultz then smacked a line drive that right-fielder Danny Hultzen appeared to snare for the second out. The umpire, however, ruled that Hultzen had trapped the ball.
Winiarski fanned Younger, but Clark loaded the bases with an infield single. If he had it do over, UVa shortstop Chris Taylor would have thrown immediately to first base after fielding the grounder. But the sophomore from Virginia Beach glanced toward second base first, and the delay allowed Clark to reach safely.
The next batter, Mike Ussery, doubled into center field, and it was 3-0.
“Obviously I wish I could have that play back, but that kind of stuff happens, and hopefully I can learn from it,” said Taylor, who went 2 for 4 on Sunday and otherwise was flawless in the field.
Pirates starter Mike Wright, a 6-5 right-hander, retired the Cavaliers’ first eight batters Sunday. UVa did not get a hit until the fifth inning, when John Barr singled down the third-base line.
Virginia pulled to 4-1 in the sixth, on Steven Proscia’s RBI single, and then to 4-2 in the seventh. In the eighth, Taylor led off with a single. He moved to third when the next batter, Keith Werman, singled, and the Wahoos appeared poised for a big inning.
But Werman broke for second on a pitch that struck out Proscia, and catcher Zach Wright’s throw beat him to the bag. Taylor scored on the play to make it 4-3, but suddenly there were two outs, and Hultzen flew out to end the inning.
In the ninth, John Hicks led off with a walk. But he too was thrown out trying to steal second, and the Cavaliers went quietly after that.
“You make decisions based on the personnel that you have,” O’Connor said, “running the bases and at the plate and [knowing] what they’re capable of doing. We just didn’t execute what we needed to. We have before, and we will the next time we get that opportunity.
“Sometimes you take chances. We’ve taken a lot of chances over the years in some of these situations, to go for wins, and when you do that, sometimes it doesn’t work out.”
Virginia hosts William and Mary at 4 p.m. Tuesday. Niagara plays at Davenport Field at the same time Wednesday.