For the first time in 2012, Jhoulys Chacin let loose with a fastball and did not feel pain.
The Colorado Rockies' right-hander wore a grin, perhaps the widest in California League history for a guy who was just burned for five earned runs in 2ª innings.
For him, it amounted to a victory of the most personal kind in what was otherwise a quiet 8-3 Modesto Nuts loss to the San Jose Giants.
"I just tried to throw my fastball for strikes ... almost all first-pitch fastballs," Chacin said. "They just started to swing at that first pitch."
Chacin, a Modesto Nuts star in 2008 and a member of the Rockies since 2009, has struggled this season. He underwent surgery in May he tried to pitch through the pain during the first month to relieve pressure on a nerve in the right pectoral area.
His rehab outing was billed as his first progress report to answer questions: Was he physically OK? Did he show velocity and command? How close is he to a return trip to the Mile High City?
The answers proved to be slightly more favorable for Chacin than to the Nuts, who missed a bid for their first sweep this season over San Jose.
Chacin negotiated the first and second innings but struggled in the third, the sequence that defined this night. San Jose caught on to Chacin's fastball rhythm and laced the ball to nearly all corners of Thurman Field.
A defensive miscue, however, set up the inning. First baseman Mark Tracy fielded Chris Lofton's sacrifice, looked to third and then threw too late to first. That loaded the bases with no one out.
Carter Jurica ripped a 3-2 pitch to the wall in left-center for a 2-run double, followed by a line-drive sacrifice fly to left by Joe Panik. After a single by Adam Duvall, Rickey Oropesa sent a first-pitch fastball off the wall in right on one hop to chase home San Jose's fourth and fifth runs.
That finished Chacin's rehab. He threw 45 pitches, his prescribed number, but just enough for the Giants.
"My plan was not to worry about what they (the Giants) do," Chacin said. "Everything felt good for the first time, so I was happy about that."
Every California League team understands the ground rules here. Ultimately, your major goal to support the big league club often does not align with the team goals. For the record, Juan Gonzalez, the Nuts' scheduled starter, blanked San Jose for two innings and struck out three.
"He (Chacin) has to pitch somewhere," Sakata said. "It wasn't his fault. We just didn't play well."
Modesto managed only five hits off as many San Jose pitchers, including gangly 6-foot-6 starter Jack Snodgrass (9-4), a lefty who beat the Nuts for the second time this season.
Snodgrass walked five in five innings work and nearly free-passed the Nuts back into the game. Cristhian Adames tripled into the left field corner to open the sixth and eventually scored on a wild pitch. Two walks later, Jayson Langfels doubled on an 0-2 pitch to right vs. reliever Craig Whitaker and closed the deficit to 5-3. A crowd of 2,292 witnessed no more thrills from the home team.
Chacin's return to Modesto may not have succeeded on the scoreboard but it was a step forward for him. The Nuts also watched closely.
"Work ahead of the batter. Keep the ball down," noticed Modesto reliever Josh Mueller, who allowed a run in the ninth. "And don't show nothing (no emotion) on the mound."
Chacin will continue his comeback with a pair of appearances at Double-A Tulsa.
"I thought the pain would go away early in the season, but I couldn't throw the ball anymore," he said. "Now I feel good."