Winkler delivers for Modesto Nuts in win over Bakersfield Blaze

bvanderbeek@modbee.comJune 15, 2013 

    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

It's a challenge to put the first-half accomplishments of Dan Winkler into any kind of accurate perspective.

He finished his half of work Saturday night with seven innings of scoreless, one-hit pitching _ taking a no-no into the seventh in what became a 6-4 Modesto victory over Bakersfield.

Winkler will be going to Tuesday's All-Star Game in San Jose as the California League leader in wins (he's 9-2,) ERA (2.15,) strikeouts (98,) WHIP (0.81,)and opponents' batting average (.172.)

Yes, that's a special half — one rarely seen in this league or any other.

"I'm riding the wave right now and it's been great," Winkler said. "Modesto's been good to me and (pitching coach) Dave Burba's been awesome, as has been the bullpen. There might be a little luck involved. I can't explain it all."

So leave it to manager Lenn Sakata, who has managed in and won more California League games than anyone in history, to supply the proper accolade.

"I can't say enough about his emergence as an ace and the job he's done time and time again," Sakata said." He's been the most consistent guy we have. He gives us a strong start every time out.

"He has a great competitive makeup and I compare him favorably to a lot of the great pitchers I've had in this league, going back to guys like (Ryan) Vogelsong, (Matt) Cain and (Tim) Lincecum and other guys like that."

Whoa. Wait a second. As good as all those guys?

"He's as good as any of them at this level. He might not have the arm strength of a Cain or a Lincecum because those guys were overpowering pitchers," Sakata said. "But you look at the swings that other teams get off Danny's fastball and you can see how the pitches explode at the plate."

There's a twist here that Winkler is taking in stride. Despite leading the league in all those categories and already having his name on the all-star roster, the word out of San Jose is that the coaching staff is leaning toward a hometown pitcher — lefty Ty Blach — to start Tuesday's game.

"It would be a nice line on a resume but I'd expect San Jose to start one of their guys in their home park," Winkler said. "They're the home team and as long as I get to pitch it doesn't matter."

Winker was staked to a 6-0 lead when Jared Simon and Will Swanner drove home runs in the second, and Ryan Casteel doubled home three runs in the third, then scored on Swanner's two-out single.

The lead allowed Winkler to go right after the Blaze hitters, something he has done with great success. In a home game against Bakersfield on May 4, Winkler took a no-no into the sixth inning.

This time he took one into the seventh, losing it when No. 3 hitter Juan Silva slapped a one-out double into the right-field corner.

"Hanging changeup," Winkler said. "I wanted it down, but I hung it a little bit. I'm not mad about giving up the hit on a changeup, but I'm kicking myself for hanging the pitch. It was the pitch I wanted to throw, but not in that location."

Winkler came out after the seventh with the 6-0 lead intact, only to see reliever Nelson Gonzalez give up four runs — all scoring after he retired the first two hitters he faced.

Kenny Roberts got the final out of the eighth, and all-star closer Scott Oberg got the save after allowing the first two Bakersfield hitters to reach in the ninth, then striking out the last three batters.

Had Winkler kept the no-hitter alive, he would have been allowed to push his pitch count to 110. As it was, he left after 84 pitches, to the resounding applause from the sellout crowd of 4,459 and then the high praise from Sakata.

"That's special," Winkler said. "Lenny's been around the game a long time. It's probably the nicest thing he's ever said about me."

Brian VanderBeek can be reached at (209) 578-2150 or follow him on Twitter, @modestobeek.

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