tampabay.com

Little rust to shake off for Sharks' Silvestri

By DEREK LARIVIERE
Published March 8, 2007


BROOKSVILLE - Nature Coast multisport star Joe Silvestri has faced many obstacles over the past couple of months.

After fracturing his collarbone during basketball season, some wondered whether he would be available for baseball season.

Last year, Silvestri and Bryan Daniels were a one-two pitching punch for coach Dan Garofano. A junior, Silvestri's importance to Nature Coast's success on the diamond cannot be understated.

A few weeks ago, doctors cleared him to begin tossing bullpen sessions under the supervision of his coaches.

The progress since has been quick, causing Garofano to start Silvestri on Tuesday against district and conference foe Hernando.

"He's got to get that first outing in there sometime," Garofano said before the Sharks' 9-2 win. "Why not tonight?"

Maybe a lucky number aided in Silvestri's speedy recovery. With new uniforms, each Sharks player chose their new numbers. The then-injured Silvestri chose the number of newly-acquired San Francisco Giants ace Barry Zito (75).

"(Zito's) my boy," Silvestri said. "He's a great pitcher to model yourself after."

Zito is known for his endurance and ability to pitch ailment-free. Six consecutive seasons of 200-plus innings pitched earned him a seven-year, $126-million contract. Silvestri hopes to have that kind of staying power in his final two prep seasons.

Some might say Silvestri pitched like a right-handed version of Zito at home Tuesday night.

Coming in with a 76-pitch limit by Garofano, the coach expected him to put in a solid outing before the bullpen closed the victory.

"I told him to give us four solid innings if he felt good," Garofano said. "If the offense came through, the pen could close it for him."

Silvestri did more than enough to surpass his coach's expectations. After a somewhat rocky first two innings when he gave up two earned runs on four hits, Silvestri settled down considerably, not allowing a base hit for the remainder of the game.

"Not to blame anything on those first two innings, but I was having trouble with balance on the mound at first," Silvestri said. "Once I got my legs under me, I felt real good."

"Real good" might be an understatement, according to Hernando hitters. Clocked between 80 and 82 mph as late as the sixth inning, the returning hurler was not at his best yet. His pitches did not have their usual movement and his curve did not break as much as usual.

"I figure to get better as the season goes on obviously," Silvestri said. "The doctors said it'll take six months before everything fully recovers, but I feel real strong right now."

The win over the Leopards pushed Nature Coast to 5-0 in Class 4A, District 8. According to Garofano, Silvestri should play between third base and pitcher the rest of the season. He likely will be replaced by a designated hitter most of the season.

"It'll be up to Joe when he's ready to finally hit in a game," Garofano said. "There's a lot more involved there than just a pitching or throwing motion between base running and being in the (batter's) box."

He has been taking cuts in the cage during practice, but Silvestri does not know when he will be ready. But he is not too concerned about it.

"It's not my role on this team; we have so many good hitters," Silvestri said.

"I am just going to continue to do my best on the mound and in the field to help get this team over the top."