With only seven home games in a 30-day span, the Modesto Nuts are in a strange part of their schedule in which they will have very little opportunity to impress their fans.
On the other hand, it took Lancaster starter Nick Tropeano only eight innings to leave a lasting impression Sunday night on everybody at John Thurman Field, including his JetHawks teammates.
Tropeano, making his first California League appearance, limited the Nuts to one run over eight innings as Lancaster edged the Nuts 3-1 in the opener of a three-game series.
Modesto got an outstanding starting performance from Leuris Gomez, who allowed two runs on two hits over seven innings, with nine strikeouts, but a two-run first-inning homer by Domingo Santana was all the JetHawks would need.
Tropeano, 21, was Houston's fifth-round pick in the 2011 draft out of Stony Brook University, which means had he stayed in college one more year he would have played in last month's College World Series.
But he has no regrets for signing early, needing only 28 professional starts to emerge as one of the top prospects in the Astros' organization.
It's a quick journey that so far has taken the Long Island native to home clubhouses in Troy, N.Y., to Lexington, Ky., and now to Lancaster - only the second time Tropeano has been to the West Coast.
"When I was at Stony Brook we played San Diego State and Pepperdine," he said. "I've never been here for vacation, only baseball."
Before Tropeano ever got a chance to step on the mound at The Hangar, one of the California League's most offensive ballparks, he got a chance to debut at Thurman Field - a relative pitchers' paradise.
The way he pitched against the Nuts, the size of the park was moot.
"He had good movement, and we could see that from where I was standing," said Nuts' manager Lenn Sakata. "He also was throwing to a liberal strike zone."
Mixing a moving fastball that topped out at 96 MPH with a sinking changeup, and with the slightest jerkiness to his motion that resembles a young Mark Fidrych, Tropeano never allowed the Nuts' hitters a chance to get comfortable.
"In the offseason I had a good workout regimen, just so I could work on my velocity," he said. "I stepped it up a notch and today I was able to work both sides of the plate with the fastball."
Modesto only got runners as far as second base in two innings. In the fourth, singles by Brett Tanos and Dallas Tarleton, combined with a one-out infield error and a walk, cut the gap to 2-1. But with the bases loaded and one out, Tropeano got Mark Tracy on a first-pitch infield pop-up, and needed only one more pitch to get Jayson Langfels to ground out.
That would be Modesto's only big threat. They got two aboard in the eighth with two outs, before Rafael Ortega's line drive to deep right-center was run-down by right fielder Santana.
"When you score one run and you have only one scoring opportunity and you don't cash that in, you won't win," Sakata said. "Being on the bus last night and getting back at 3 a.m. didn't help us. We were a little flat."
Gomez wasn't. After giving up the first-inning homer he retired 13 straight batters, the last seven on consecutive strikeouts. Lancaster got its final run when George Springer homered off Kurt Yacko to open the ninth.
"In the last three innings Gomez threw some great pitches and had something on the ball," Sakata said. "He looked like a pitcher who should be in command all the time, especially at this level. I have no problem with the way he threw tonight, but I do have a problem with our offense."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2150. Follow him at twitter.com/modestobeek.