LINCOLN — By the time Ted Silva earned the title-clinching win for Cal State Fullerton at the 1995 College World Series, with a future mentor admirably looking on from the opposing dugout, the characteristics that still define the NU pitching coach were well-established.
“What set him apart (then), and what sets him apart today — it’s his competitiveness,” said Mike Gillespie, the former USC coach whose Trojans spent eight innings trying to knock Silva out of that championship game nearly two decades ago. “He just doesn’t give in.”
Not even when he moves halfway across the country to take over a pitching staff at Nebraska, full of differing personalities and foreign approaches, that ends up spending a full season meshing with Silva and his Californian confidence.
Silva can be somewhat defiant in support of his philosophy and style, and his frank personality (mixed with a bit of dry humor) made it difficult for NU’s guys to interpret. Said sophomore Josh Roeder: “At first, I didn’t know if it was sarcasm or being truthful. He’s really up front with you.”
But that approach is what has led to success for Silva, at least in Gillespie’s eyes. Gillespie, who took over at UC Irvine in 2007, added Silva to his staff before the 2008 season, when the Anteaters recorded the nation’s third-best ERA (3.27) and won the NCAA Regional in Lincoln.
Gillespie and Silva worked together for three years, and they’ll meet on the diamond again this weekend when Nebraska starts a three-game series at UC Irvine Friday.
“He’s demanding of the pitchers because he wants them to be competitive, that they not give in, to step up when things get tough,” Gillespie said. “He does not baby anybody. No special treatment for stars. (His personality) certainly was reflected in the pitchers we had here.”
Silva’s approach appears to be rubbing off on Nebraska’s pitchers now, too, especially among the starters.
The Huskers spent all last year trying to find three guys to rely on in their weekend rotation. And even without their expected ace, Kyle Kubat, they’ve managed to give Nebraska’s struggling offense a chance to keep pace against quality competition.
Junior Christian DeLeon has moved into the Friday role while senior Ryan Hander has built off a promising finish to 2012.
Junior Brandon Pierce credits Silva for instilling the confidence necessary for his improvement. He’s been able to throw off-speed pitches in hitters’ counts, or bouncing breaking balls in the dirt with runners in scoring position.
“I’m not thinking, ‘I need to make this pitch’ anymore,” Pierce said. “It’s, ‘I’m going to make this pitch.’”
And Silva does call the pitches, but he gives the pitchers the option to shake him off. They’re on the same page more often now, though.
Still, the obvious objective at this point is to keep getting better. Nebraska’s team ERA is still too high (4.81), and even though certain relievers have emerged, there are some question marks in the bullpen.
Silva won’t stop pushing. That’s for sure.
“They all know that at the end of the day, I’m on their side and I have their back,” Silva said. “But just because they’ve done it over the past few weeks, it’s a long season, it’s about a week-to-week improvement.”
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