Cavs' Rotation Loaded with Sophomores

Brian O'Connor didn't do much tinkering with his weekend rotation last baseball season at Virginia. Brandon Waddell and Scott Silverstein both started 16 games for the Cavaliers, and Nick Howard started a dozen.

But O'Connor expects this year to be different.

"I don't believe how we start the season will be anywhere near where we are in the middle or the end of the year," O'Connor told reporters earlier this week.

Waddell is the only weekend starter from last season expected to reprise his role from a year ago. Silverstein is getting ready for his first full season of pro baseball, while Howard is expected to split time between the Cavaliers' infield and closer role.

For the second straight season, Waddell will get the Opening Day start for UVa. The Cavaliers are set to face Kentucky on Friday afternoon in Wilmington, N.C. -- with first pitch in that game pushed back to 1:30 p.m.

Two more sophomores are expected to start UVa's other games this weekend, with lefty Nathan Kirby scheduled to face VMI on Saturday, and right-hander Josh Sborz set to face UNC-Wilmington on Sunday.

That leaves a pair of highly-regarded right-handed freshmen -- Connor Jones and Jack Roberts -- out of the weekend rotation to start the season. O'Connor said this week that Roberts wouldn't be ready to start the season because of "a little bit of a hiccup," while Jones could potentially begin his college career in the UVa bullpen.

A year ago, Waddell became the first freshman since 1986 to start UVa' season opener.

"Just the emotions that I had going into last year, this year is obviously a little bit different," he said Monday. "Knowing what I'm getting myself into, kind of, and what it will be like. But it's still really exciting, and still really, you're still ready to get going and still have that adrenaline with you."

Waddell wound up spending the entire 2013 season as the Cavaliers' Friday starter, finishing the year 6-3 with a 3.96 ERA, and leading the team with 84 strikeouts -- including 15 in a February start against Toledo, and eight in the team's NCAA opener against Army.

"It's a lot more comforting, to tell you the truth," Waddell said of entering his second season. "Knowing everything that I have under my belt, all the experiences. Everything I learned from last year. So it's nice to know I have that with me when I go out there this year and pitch in games."

Kirby arrived at UVa last year as the reigning Virginia prep player of the year. He finished his freshman season 4-1 with a 6.06 ERA, with all but two of his 24 appearances coming out of the bullpen.

Last summer, Kirby was named the top pro prospect in the New England Collegiate Baseball League, after a 3-0 performance with a 1.67 ERA and 60 strikeouts for the Keene Swamp Bats.

"I think Nathan Kirby is significantly improved from last year," O'Connor said, adding that the lefty looked dominant in a team scrimmage last weekend.

"He's learned that he can slow the game down a little bit," O'Connor explained. "That when he gets runners in scoring position, he doesn't have to hurry up and just try to throw the ball by everybody. That it's about where his pitches are located, and he needs to remain calm and poised, and things like that. That's the area that I've seen the biggest improvement."

"He's kind of understood the game more, with the experiences that he got last year," Waddell said of Kirby. "Understood the big differences between the college game and the high school game. And I feel like he can use those experiences a lot to help him out this year."

Sborz made a team-high 30 appearances as a freshman in 2013, including three starts, finishing the season 3-0 with a 1.98 ERA and a pair of saves.

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