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Venezuela turns to Silva for semis start

Sojo opting for veteran right-hander over Mariners teammate Hernandez

Carlos Silva is 1-0 with a 0.82 ERA in 11 innings in the Classic. (Doug Benc/Getty)

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LOS ANGELES -- If the team from Venezuela makes it to the championship game of the World Baseball Classic on Monday, it will be a Mariners pitcher that helps gets them there.

Right-hander Carlos Silva, not Seattle teammate Felix Hernandez, will start against Korea in the semifinal game Saturday at Dodger Stadium for a Venezuelan team that has been close to unbeatable.

Venezuela is 6-1 in World Baseball Classic games this year. Its only defeat was a 15-6 loss to the United States in the first round. Another loss would send the Venezuelans home.

"We have been in very important tournaments in Venezuela," Venezuela manager Luis Sojo said. "But to bring this [title] to Venezuela, personally, I think would be the most important of my career."

Silva is a big reason for the country's success. In the first-round opener in Toronto, Silva gave up six hits in four scoreless innings against Italy. In the second-round opener, he gave up one run and four hits in seven innings against the Netherlands.

Overall, Silva is 1-0 with a 0.82 ERA in 11 innings with six strikeouts and one walk. Last season for the Mariners, Silva went 4-14 with 6.46 ERA. For his career, he is 59-61 with a 4.61 ERA in seven seasons with the Phillies, Twins and Mariners.

Should Venezuela advance past Korea, Hernandez will take the mound Monday to face the winner of Sunday night's contest between Japan and Team USA. The right-hander is 2-0 and has given up five hits in 8 2/3 scoreless innings in the tournament.

Sojo has been asked repeatedly about his decision to start Silva instead of Hernandez. On Saturday, he explained his choice.

"It's the manager's decision," Sojo said. "We are looking at our versatility and that Carlos can give us 100 pitches. Carlos Silva is the man who is going to be responsible to give us a win."

If Silva can make it to the middle innings Saturday, he'll hand off the ball a group of Venezuelan relievers that includes Victor Zambrano, Enrique Gonzalez, and Ramon Ramirez. Closer Francisco Rodriguez has three saves and has not given up a run in 5 2/3 innings. He has given up two hits and has eight strikeouts.

Venezuela's offense has been just as effective.

The team has a batting average of .309 in seven Classic games, the highest among the four teams remaining in the tournament. Of the team's 76 total hits, 36 are for extra-base hits.

Second baseman Jose Lopez and catcher Henry Blanco each have a batting average of .500, in 20 at-bats and 10 at-bats, respectively. Overall, Venezuela has eight players with a batting average above the .300 mark, including Endy Chavez (.368), Miguel Cabrera (.321) and Bobby Abreu (.316).

And the offense could get better.

Melvin Mora, who is nursing a sore hamstring, and Ramon Hernandez, who missed Wednesday's game with a sore knee, will be back in the lineup. Mora is hitting .409 (6-for-22), and Hernandez has a .400 batting average (6-for-15) with two home runs.

"The win for us is the most important thing," Mora said. "[Korea] does not give up and we need to play ball."

Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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