The Modesto Nuts have stumbled upon a recipe that will allow them to compete in the California League while their offense strives to find its groove.
It's equal parts pitching, pitching, defense and pitching, and add pitching a pinch at a time to taste.
Starter Ben Alsup was the chef behind Modesto's latest fully-baked creation, limiting Stockton to one run on three hits over seven innings of what became a 6-4 victory Wednesday afternoon at John Thurman Field.
"The defense is making plays and picking us up when we need it and that allows us to throw a lot of strikes, keep the pitch count down and go deep into games," said Alsup, a product of Louisiana State University.
But it's not just Alsup (3-2), it's all five members of the Nuts' rotation. In a streak that began with Alsup's start against Bakersfield to open this homestand, Modesto has enjoyed six consecutive starting efforts of six or more innings.
In that run the starters have gone 38 innings and have allowed eight earned runs on 19 hits with 27 strikeouts against only six walks.
"The lack of walks is huge because there's no defense for them," Alsup said. "And with our defense all we have to do is make the hitters put the ball into play, and we've done a good job as a staff of doing that."
Not coincidentally, the Nuts are 5-1 on the homestand, which concludes tonight with a 7:05 start against the Ports.
"The walk total is impressive, especially when you look at last year and the inability for everyone except a couple guys to throw strikes," said Nuts manager Lenn Sakata.
"This is a very good pitching staff in that respect and hopefully our offense catches up. When that happens, things will look up."
With the pitching staff on a roll, it's time for the Modesto offense to follow suit. And in one huge inning, the Modesto bats showed signs of waking up.
Stockton starter Deyvi Jimenez (0-1) took a one-hit shutout and a 1-0 lead into the fifth inning, but wouldn't be around to see the sixth.
He walked Juan Crousset with one out, and Brian Humphries drove Crousset to third base with a single to right. Tyler Massey tied the game with a sacrifice fly, and it appeared the Nuts would have to be satisfied with taking a 1-1 tie into the sixth.
But that's when Modesto not only got the game's biggest break, but took advantage of it.
Sam Mende's hard ground ball to shortstop hit the lip of the infield grass and was launched into left-center to extend the inning. Taylor Featherston worked a walk as Stockton frantically tried to get a reliever warm in the bullpen.
But before Jimenez could be pulled Ryan Casteel rocketed a ground ball that was snared at third base on a dive by B.A. Vullmuth. His throw to first base was late and wild, and two runs scored on the play.
Jimenez stayed in the game to face Harold Riggins, but Jimenez's 32nd pitch (and final) of the inning was a high fastball that Riggins crushed over the left field fence. It was his third 3-run homer of the week and it gave Modesto it's biggest inning and largest lead of the season at 6-1.
"Luck is involved in baseball and you have to have the breaks go your way," Sakata said. "You also have to keep the games close enough so that those breaks can make a difference. The pitching did that for us."
Stockton rallied for three runs in the eighth off reliever Nelson Gonzalez, but Kenny Roberts came on to get the last four outs for his fourth save.
The Nuts had lost eight straight games heading into this homestand, and win or lose tonight the seven-game set could be considered a major plus for a team not showing any signs of laying down.
"As I watch a game I want to be comfortable with the way the game is being played, and I like this team and these players," Sakata said. "We just need a little more offense."
Brian VanderBeek can be reached at (209) 578-2150 or follow him on Twitter, @modestobeek