MODESTO — Dan Winkler's routine on days he pitches does not include checking the weather forecast for his hometown.
If Winkler had checked the outlook for Friday night prior to going out and stifling High Desert on one hit through six innings of a 3-1 Modesto Nuts' victory, "distraction" would have been a very real concern.
As it was, he had no knowledge of the tornadoes reported in the St. Louis area, or that they were part of a band of storms that later passed directly over Effingham, Ill., 100 miles to the east.
"I'm not aware of anything yet and I had no idea of any storm tonight," Winkler said right after the game. "I'm sure my family is all right."
His family, reached via Facebook during the game, reported a lot of wind, but no damage.
Ironic in a way, since that was the same result of Winkler's pitches against the free-swinging Mavericks a lot of wind, no damage.
The righty improved to 7-2 to tie for the California League lead in wins. He also leads the league in WHIP (.093), batting average against (.182) and is second in strikeouts (75).
"He made enough good pitches," said Nuts' manager Lenn Sakata. "His fastball was exceptional and it must have a lot of movement.
"He's my best starting pitcher. He's been the most reliable and the most consistent as far as controlling the game and keeping us in the game."
The one hit he allowed came on a good pitch with two outs in the fourth. It was a slider, low, and Kevin Rivers went down and smashed it to deep center field.
That's where Kyle Von Tungeln was playing in his first game wearing a Modesto uniform after being promoted from low-A Asheville.
Unfamiliar with the Thurman Field surroundings and seeing for the first time how balls can travel on warm, dry nights, Von Tungeln got to the wall, looked up, and stumbled just long enough for the ball to hit the base of the barrier.
It caromed hard back toward the infield. Right fielder Jared Simon chased down the ball and fired to second baseman Niko Gallego.
Rivers was being waved home all the way, and Gallego's throw home sailed over the head of catcher Will Swanner, whose homer in the previous inning had given the Nuts a 1-0 lead.
"You have to give the hitters credit sometimes," Swanner said. "It was a sinker that he went down and got. I was hoping for a lower throw because I didn't want to get trucked."
Ryan Casteel hit a 400-foot sacrifice fly in the bottom of the fourth to give the Nuts a 2-1 lead, and Gallego smacked an RBI double in the fifth to complete the scoring.
Rivers' inside-the-park home run was the only hit the Mavericks collected until the ninth, but Scott Oberg enticed a game-ending double play as Nuts' pitchers faced only four batters over the minimum.
Nelson Gonzalez bridged the two innings between Winkler and Oberg with two perfect innings, striking out three.
"It was one of those days," Winkler said. "Everything I threw was pretty much painted. When I wanted to go up in the zone, it was there, and I threw my slider where I wanted."
"He probably hit every spot I wanted him to," Swanner said. "We go over the hitters before every game and I know both of us take that very seriously.
"He's so focused during the game on what it takes to win, and he gets the job done with all his pitches sinkers, change-ups and sliders. It's hard to come by a pitcher who can do all of that."
And after the game, Winkler was on the phone, checking in with the family for his own weather report.
"We get a lot of bad storms in Illinois," Winkler said. "But I've only been through one earthquake. I was sleeping and it scared the crap out of me."
High Desert pitcher and Bret Harte grad Trevor Miller would like a chance to pitch at Thurman Field. Read Brian VanderBeek's blog at modbee.com/blogs