Juan Gonzalez is pitching his way out of a conundrum.
He wants the Modesto Nuts coaching staff to have the confidence to allow him to pitch deep into his starts. But before that can happen, Gonzalez has to show he has the confidence in his own abilities to be that kind of starter.
His road back continued Tuesday night. In the Nuts' 4-2 victory over High Desert, Gonzalez (5-10) worked five strong innings, allowing two runs (one earned) on four hits to notch his first victory since June 27.
"I'm working with the pitching coach (Darryl Scott) and we're talking about pitching inning by inning," Gonzalez said. "All I know I'm throwing is the first three innings, and after that it's all about what they want."
Well, what they want is for Gonzalez to be a key part of Modesto's rotation heading into the California League playoffs. And to achieve that, the Nuts' coaching staff is keeping the Venezuelan righty on a very short leash.
Two starts ago, Gonzalez was limited to three innings, and he responded by holding San Jose to one run on two hits. In his last start, against Visalia, Gonzalez was allowed to work the fourth inning, and he left having allowed no runs on only one hit.
He followed that with this effort against the Mavericks, who have been the league's best team this season.
"Credit to Darryl because it's about the work that's getting done in the bullpen," said Nuts manager Lenn Sakata. "The kid reached the point where he had to change something and limiting him to 4-5 innings, where he can go all-out, is a lot easier than telling him he has 100 pitches and he needs to use them all."
The bottom line for Gonzalez is that he has allowed only two earned runs on seven hits over his last eight innings. That's quite an improvement for a pitcher who allowed double-digit hit totals in four of his previous 10 starts before being put on an innings limit.
"I did feel bad at the time, but I understood what it meant," Gonzalez said. "I needed to pitch better and get to where I can pitch seven innings. But I want to pitch good, whether it's five, six, one or two innings."
He got just enough offense from his teammates. Cristhian Adames had three hits and scored two runs. Delta Cleary Jr. also had three hits, including two, two-out RBI singles.
And Kyle Parker continued his torrid hitting by smashing a double and a homer in three at-bats, and is now 25-for-46 (.543) in his last 12 games.
Parker's homer was a solo shot over the batter's eye in center that capped the scoring in the fifth inning. It came on the first pitch delivered by High Desert reliever Tim Griffin, a teammate of Parker at Bartram Trail High School in Jacksonville, Fla.
The Modesto bullpen took over from there, with Craig Benningson, Nick Schnaitmann, Kraig Sitton and newcomer Michael Solbach posting zeroes the rest of the way as the Nuts maintained their 2½-game lead over Visalia in the North Division second-half standings.
Gonzalez will get another turn on the mound on Sunday, when the Nuts close this six-game homestand with a game against San Jose. Once again, he'll take the mound with the promise of going three innings, but the hope of going longer as he earns additional slack in his leash.
"You need to learn how to pitch like every inning could be your last, because if you coast you get your butt kicked," Sakata said."He has to feel good about himself and the way he's pitched the last three times out."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at (209) 578-2150 or email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/modestobeek.
Does Nuts' ace Christian Bergman have a shot at 20 wins? Read Brian VanderBeek's blog at thehive.modbee.com/thurman.