Sophomore calls bullpen his home

Becky Plevin

“Siberio!” Northwestern baseball coach Paul Stevens yells intothe dugout when it’s time for the sophomore relief pitcher to startwarming up in the bullpen.

Four or five batters later, Julio Siberio takes over the moundand inherits a struggling pitcher’s threatening situation.

It’s hard to get recognition on a baseball team that boastsstarting pitchers J.A. Happ and Dan Brauer, who have the second-and third-best ERAs in the Big Ten. While Siberio doesn’t yet havethe same glowing conference statistics as his teammates, he hasproved to his teammates and coaches that he can come into an inningand shut down the opposition.

Siberio came in for the 10th inning of Friday’s game againstPurdue to relieve Chris Hayes. Siberio successfully closed theextra frame, stranding a runner at third and holding Purdue to nohits and no runs.

“When he gets on that mound I can guarantee you, in his mind, heis basically a giant-killer,” Stevens said of the the 5-foot-11,170-pound Florida native. “He is definitely somebody that fears noone.

“He symbolizes what it is to believe you can do it and then goand do it.”

Being a relief pitcher means Siberio takes over someone else’sgame. Siberio said the most effective way to get the outs to endthe inning is to stay calm and work through each batter, pitch bypitch.

And he should know — until he started Sunday’s game at PennState, Siberio had not started a game for the past six years. Inhis first collegiate start, Siberio went four and one-thirdinnings, giving up three runs.

“When I’m relieving, I’m trying to focus on a specific inning, aspecific batter, rather than the game as a whole,” he said. “I tryto do my best to be as ice cold as possible. I’m trying to stay asrelaxed as possible so I don’t get too intense about the gameitself.”

Stevens said when Siberio replaces starting pitchers Happ,Brauer, Dan Konecny and George Kontos, who throw the ball hard andfast, the reliever’s slower pitching style throws hitters offbalance.

“It’s a totally different look than what guys have been seeingbefore,” Stevens said. “They’ve been seeing the hard fastball andhard slider, and now they’re seeing more of a rolling curveball, amedium-style fastball and a changeup. Mr. Siberio brings aninteresting twist to the mound.”

Siberio said there is a standard routine that is followed whencoaches call in a reliever. First, the catcher comes to the moundto talk strategy. If that doesn’t solve the problem, pitching coachTim Stoddard trudges out from the dugout to offer technical advice.Finally, coach Stevens struts out to the mound, and takes the ballfrom the pitcher.

Siberio said while this routine is designed to help the pitcherregain control of the game, it also is a stalling device to allowthe reliever enough time to loosen up.

After Stoddard came out and gave him pitching advice during thePenn State game, Siberio said Stoddard also advised him to put onhis best acting routine.

“He stood there in silence,” Siberio said, “and then said, ‘Gotto make sure Chris Hayes gets ready. Smile and nod and pretend I’mtelling you something important.'”