Virginia baseball coach Brian O’Connor’s eyes flash with excitement when he talks about fifth-year senior hurler Scott Silverstein, and with good reason.
Most pitchers who run into the shoulder problems that Silverstein did usually don’t experience happy endings. Even the big lefty from Olney, Md., had those dark moments when he wondered.
On a brilliant spring afternoon, Silverstein’s thoughts didn’t linger on the past. His focus had squarely been on a dangerous batting lineup from Florida State, which he handcuffed en route to a 7-0 record on the mound for the No. 7 Cavaliers.
Silverstein limited the visiting and fifth-ranked Seminoles to one hit over seven innings (matching his longest outing), while striking out six and walking only three in UVa’s 2-0 win that secured a doubleheader sweep over the ACC’s Atlantic Division leaders.
In any pitching circle, Silverstein pitched a gem of a game. In the world of comebacks from two shoulder surgeries and other injuries, what he accomplished was simply amazing.
“Yeah, I guess so,” Silverstein chuckled when asked if it would have been difficult to envision being 7-0 and mastering FSU back a few years ago when he was nursing a bum shoulder. “There were some low points but I had good friends behind me and the support of the coaching staff and a great support system at Virginia that got me back on my feet.”
O’Connor noted that when Silverstein committed to Virginia as a high school All-American at St. John’s College High School, that the Cavaliers also had another commitment out of the same class from the state of Maryland. The other player was Danny Hultzen.
“When we saw the two of them, Scott Silverstein was a better pitcher than Danny Hultzen,” O’Connor said.
Of course, Hultzen went on to become an All-American hurler for the Cavaliers and led them to Omaha before leaving early for the Major League Draft and is now working his way through the Seattle Mariners’ farm system.
Silverstein had a series of shoulder injuries that left him dismayed at the very least.
“It was one of those unfortunate things, a couple games into his spring senior season, he hurt his shoulder and has a tough time recovering,” the UVa skipper said. “But this kid has shown last year and this year what he’s truly made of. What he’s done through his time here, especially the back half of his career, says all you need to know about him as a person.”
You’ll get no argument from Florida State or Silverstein’s other six victims this season. He mixes and matches his pitches well and has flashes where his fastball hits 93 or 94 on the radar gun. He had great command Saturday, not only of the strike zone, but his head.
“What Scott did last year was basically put too much pressure on himself and make the game a little harder than it was,” said UVa pitching coach Karl Kuhn. “It was understandable because he hadn’t been in the heat of the fire for three years. He had forgotten that a little bit.”
Silverstein was determined to persevere. He wasn’t going to let an injury define him, but rather define himself as a person by how he responded to the challenge. Now you know why those around him appreciate his odyssey even more.
“I don’t think there’s a fan of UVa baseball that hasn’t said a little prayer for Scott Silverstein at some point and time,” Kuhn said. “He’s worked so hard and I think the baseball gods are shining down on him now.”
Silverstein combined with closer Kyle Crockett to toss the first one-hitter against Florida State since May 1, 1998.
After it was all over, Silverstein was his usual modest self, praising his teammates, praising the team’s record, deflecting any notice of his own marvelous performance.
“We had a good game plan,” Silverstein said in his aw shucks manner. “I was able to throw strikes and some off-speed stuff for strikes and they made some good plays behind me.”
Strikes. Yeah, that’s the ticket. According to Kuhn, that’s one of the major differences between Silverstein last year, when he made his comeback in sort of a test run, and this year.
“He’s 6-foot-6, 240 pounds … he’s a huge carcass,” Kuhn deadpanned. “He’s coming at you and he’s throwing strikes. You could be 4-foot-6 or 10-foot-6, wouldn’t matter if you can’t throw strikes.”
O’Connor said that Silverstein has clearly gotten better over last year’s performances when he made the starting rotation early but struggled and halfway through the season was relegated to the bullpen. That wasn’t surprising, having never pitched for 15 weeks over his entire college career.
“I’ve come a long ways from when I was injured,” Silverstein admitted. “I’m proud to play for this team and proud to wear the jersey.”
When he’s through at Virginia, O’Connor believes Silverstein has a future in the game.
“Somebody’s going to give him an opportunity to pitch beyond this and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he’ll have a career long after he’s left here,” O’Connor said.
Especially if those baseball gods keep on a smilin’.