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Local pitcher had long road to majors

| Saturday, May 12, 2007

Matt DeSalvo tried to remain composed in front of 47,000 fans at Yankee Stadium.

The undersized right-hander from a small town outside New Castle was making his first major-league start for the New York Yankees in front of a national television audience.

"I wasn't too nervous," he said. "Then, Ichiro stepped in the box and looked me in the face and pointed his bat at me."

DeSalvo allowed a double to the Mariners' all-star outfielder, before settling down in a memorable debut.

Four years after opening his pro baseball career as an undrafted free agent, DeSalvo (0-0, 1.29 ERA) will make his second start tonight against the Seattle Mariners when the Yankees play at Safeco Field.

The 6-foot, 180-pound right-hander allowed one run on three hits in seven innings, retiring the final eight batters he faced in a 3-2 Yankees loss Monday. He didn't factor in the decision.

"After the third inning, I kind of settled down," said DeSalvo, 26. "I was calm. I was settled down."

Yankee Stadium is another world from Union Township (population 5,103), where DeSalvo would work outside on his pitching mechanics on snowy winter days, or Division III Marietta (Ohio) College, where he broke three NCAA pitching marks but still couldn't attract a pick in the draft.

About 30 family and friends traveled from the New Castle area to the Bronx to see the former Union High School star make his debut.

"Sitting there watching him in Yankee Stadium was surreal," said John Quahliero, 35, of New Castle, who runs an indoor sports facility where DeSalvo is a pitching instructor. "I was extremely nervous in the stands. I couldn't imagine how he could grab the ball, with 47,000 fans, and A-Rod and Jeter, and even reach home plate."

Back in New Castle, friends and family watched the game at the home of Terry and Cindy DeSalvo, his uncle and aunt.

"We were all so proud," Terry DeSalvo said. "Our chests stuck out."

In his final six innings, DeSalvo allowed one hit. He struck out none and walked three.

"He threw the ball real well," catcher Jorge Posada told "I was really impressed with the things he did."

DeSalvo didn't have any Division I offers coming out of Union High School -- "I didn't even have any D-III offers" -- and wanted to play shortstop at Marietta.

He settled at pitcher at the Division III national power, and he shattered some prestigious national marks.

Still, the pro scouts weren't impressed.

The Division III All-American went 17-1 as a junior and struck out 19 batters in a game twice, yet no one called.

DeSalvo graduated from Marietta in 2003 with more wins (53) and strikeouts (603) than any other pitcher in NCAA history, but no one was willing to draft a 6-foot right-hander who threw in the low-to-mid 90s.

There were 548 right-handed pitchers taken in the 2003 draft. DeSalvo wasn't among them.

"You can't let bad things get to you," DeSalvo said. "My junior year, on draft day, my coach said I should go the first day. As soon as it was 3 p.m., I was sick of sitting at the house. I went out.

"In 2003, I didn't even care."

DeSalvo's path to the majors was up and down. He signed with the Yankees and moved briskly through the farm system, being promoted from Staten Island to Battle Creek to Tampa.

In 2005, he was named the organization's top minor-league pitcher. But he struggled last season at Triple-A Columbus, going 1-6 with a 7.68 ERA before being demoted to Double-A Trenton.

"For me, it doesn't come easy," he said. "I have to continually be working or I lose everything. Some guys can repeat everything. I have to reteach myself. It makes me better. You redefine yourself everyday."

Before being promoted to take the spot of slumping Kei Igawa in the rotation, DeSalvo was 3-0 with a 1.05 ERA at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

DeSalvo should stick in the rotation for at least two or three more weeks, when Roger Clemens joins the Yankees. After that, it's anybody's guess.

"It really doesn't matter to me," DeSalvo said. "The decision is not up to me. I try to get guys out and throw strikes. If I do, I can earn the right to stay up here."

DeSalvo is regarded as one of the most intelligent players in the Yankee organization. He reads as many as five books at a time -- ranging from Albert Camus to 17th-century military strategy -- and penned his own book, "Love Travels," during long minor-league bus trips.

So when DeSalvo spoke about the omen of his locker in the Yankees' clubhouse being right next to a door, he was reflective.

"I hope that's a positive symbol," he said, "that I'm coming in and not leaving."

Additional Information:

Matt DeSalvo

Hometown: Union Township, Lawrence County

Team: New York Yankees

Position: RHP

Age: 26

Height: 6-foot

Weight: 180

Notable: Allowed one run on three hits in major-league debut

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