Around the fifth inning, Aneury Rodriguez began to think about a no-hitter.
The Modesto Nuts right-hander certainly had the stuff to throw one. On this warm Sunday afternoon, he was spotting his fastball and changeup and getting his curveball over for strikes whenever he needed.
It was a far cry from his previous outing, a struggle Tuesday in which he didn't get out of the third inning in a loss to Bakersfield.
Rodriguez didn't get his no-hitter. That bid ended when Robert Perry blooped a double to right-center with two outs in the sixth. But that was all Lake Elsinore would manage as Rodriguez hurled the first nine-inning shutout in the California League this season in Modesto's 11-0 thrashing of the Storm.
"I was thinking about the no-hitter and I was trying to throw one, but that's OK," Rodriguez said. "This really felt good. I was throwing all my pitches for strikes, and my changeup was good. I had good location with my fastball."
Rodriguez (3-3) received ample offensive support. Anthony Jackson and Michael McKenry had two doubles each, and Matt Repec got the Nuts going with his first home run of the season, a solo blast that started Modesto's four-run third inning.
"I don't know how many runs we scored on outs, but that was great situational hitting all day," Nuts manager Jerry Weinstein said. "It was a tremendous all-around game for us. Great hitting, pitching and defense."
And nothing short of a breakout performance for Rodriguez. He did have one professional complete-game shutout under his belt, a three-hitter last Aug. 17 for Asheville. This one was about five feet from being a no-no. Perry's double fell in only because Jackson was shaded about seven steps toward left field. Perry was the lone Storm player to reach second base. Rodriguez walked batters in the fourth and fifth, and another hitter reached via throwing error in the eighth, but the lanky Dominican needed only 107 pitches to complete the task.
"In the last game, I couldn't throw the curveball for strikes, and it left me with only one pitch, my fastball," Rodriguez said. "I can't get hitters out if I have only one pitch, and today I threw the curveball with good location."
The victory completed Modesto's three-game sweep of Lake Elsinore, which is tied for first place with High Desert in the South Division despite being three games under .500 -- another glaring example of the North's domination this season.
The North Division will enter today's games 27 games over .500 against the South.
Had the Civil War been this one-sided, Atlanta today would be the world's cheesesteak capital.
Modesto is 11-2 against teams from the South and 7-17 against the North. Since the Nuts play their next 19 games against the North, now would be a good time for the team to turn around that trend.
"We are where we are, and now we have to go out in our own division and play like we did today," Weinstein said. "If we had played in our own division the way we played the last three days, we'd be fine no matter what division we're in."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.