Winkler an all-star in the making for Modesto Nuts

bvanderbeek@modbee.comJune 12, 2013 

EC Nuts Mavs04

ED CRISOSTOMO/ Modesto Nuts' Daniel Winkler, (19), fires a pitch against High Desert Mavericks during the top of the 2nd inning at John Thurman Field on Friday evening (05-31-13) in Modesto CA.

ED CRISOSTOMO — The Modesto Bee Buy Photo

    alternate textBrian VanderBeek
    Title: Staff writer
    Coverage areas: Sports, including preps, colleges and the Modesto Nuts
    Bio: Brian VanderBeek joined The Bee in 1996 after previously working at The Home News-Tribune and The Star-Ledger in New Jersey, the (Dover) Delaware State News and the Hanford Sentinel. He is a graduate of Ripon High, Modesto Junior College and holds a degree in journalism from Fresno State.
    Recent stories written by Brian
    On Twitter: @modestobeek

— The immediate goal of the Modesto Nuts is to finish the first half with a rush, perhaps getting to .500 by the time the 70-game barrier is reached.

But the midpoint of the season also brings the all-star break, and the promise of the lone multi-day rest most players will get all summer.

Rest? Not so fast, Dan Winkler.

The California League roster for the upcoming all-star game against the Carolina League will be announced on Friday, and Winkler — who picked up his league-leading eighth win in Wednesday's 5-1 victory over San Jose — is a lock to be on the team.

Winkler, 8-2 and with the league's best ERA at 2.45, followed baseball's unspoken protocol by not talking about the possibility of being a mid-season all-star, but he did say he'd be honored to be chosen.

"My parents are coming out and so is my wife, so hopefully it happens," said Winkler, who has yet to make an all-star game as a professional. "It would mean a lot. It's a good credential to have and I haven't played in an all-star game in a while."

But that's an individual honor while Winkler and his teammates are chasing bigger goals. The one at hand is to finish the first half with some momentum.

In handing first-place San Jose its first road series loss of the season, the Nuts improved to 28-31. It means that with 11 games left in the first half, Modesto — despite the severe ups and downs — has a legitimate shot at a .500 record at the break.

"It was the same thing last year when we had to win the last game of the first half to be .500 and we lost," said Nuts' manager Lenn Sakata. "Momentum is important as we continue to improve in the areas where we've been failing."

At least for one night, Modesto was solid in its largest area of first-half failure — putting the ball in play with runners in scoring position.

Neither team managed a baserunner until two outs in the bottom of the fourth. Taylor Featherston hit a fly ball to left-center that was run-down and dropped by San Jose center fielder Chris Lofton.

Ryan Casteel, looking for a fastball from San Jose's Edwin Escobar, got one and promptly deposited it over the fence in left-center. The game's first hit gave the Nuts a 2-0 lead.

"I didn't think I got it, but I'm glad it went out," said Casteel, the first Modesto player to reach 10 homers this season. "I just put a good swing on it and it went. When the center fielder misplayed that ball I knew something good was going to come from it."

San Jose got a run back in the fifth when Devin Harris led off with a double and scored on a two-out single by Skyler Stromsmoe, but that was the only time in the first six innings that a Giant touched second base against Winkler.

The Nuts promptly took control against Escobar (0-3) by tacking-on three runs in the bottom of the inning — again, all with two-out hits.

Juan Crousset's double to left plated Harold Riggins, then after Jose Rivera was hit by a pitch Brian Humphries and Featherston delivered RBI singles for a 5-1 lead.

"We had some real good at bats and some big hits tonight," Sakata said. "We're not a team that is going to blow other teams away, so when we have the chance to score we have to take advantage of it, and we did that tonight."

It also was a significant evening for San Jose starter Eric Surkamp, a lefty on the roster of the San Francisco Giants who was making his first appearance in a game since undergoing Tommy John surgery last July.

Surkamp, on a limit of 35 pitches or two innings, needed only 26 pitches to retire six batters, notching three strikeouts along the way and hitting 89 mph with his fastball. Surkamp is scheduled to be with San Jose for several weeks as he works to regain his arm strength and overall stamina.

By that time, Winkler will have an all-star game appearance under his belt (it's June 18 in San Jose) and the Nuts will be into a second-half in which they are aiming to contend.

Last year's team — the one that finished 34-36 in the first half — won the second half and went on to claim the North Division title.

"Right now we want to go into the break on a winning streak," Winkler said. "It matters at the end for a wild-card spot and once you get into the playoffs anything can happen."

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