Modesto Nuts complete four-game sweep of Visalia Rawhide

bvanderbeek@modbee.comJune 30, 2013 

EC Nuts Mavs03

ED CRISOSTOMO/ecrisostomo@modbee.com Modesto Nuts' William Swanner, (23), connects for a solo home run against High Desert Mavericks during the bottom of the 3rd inning at John Thurman Field on Friday evening (05-31-13) in Modesto CA.

ED CRISOSTOMO — Modesto Bee Buy Photo

When Will Swanner missed what would have been a go-ahead sixth-inning grand slam by a scant few foul feet, the Nuts' catcher grabbed his bat and begged home plate umpire Mike Huus to reconsider.

"I knew it was long enough, I was just hoping it was fair," Swanner said. "I went back to Mike and said 'C'mon, I block balls for you all night. You had to call that fair.' "

Two pitches later, Swanner got another pitch to his liking and swatted it down the left-field line for a game-tying three-run double that completed the Modesto Nuts' rally from a four-run deficit and sent them on their way to a 6-5 victory over Visalia.

Just like that, the team that never really found a collective stroke in the first half of the California League season has opened the second half 4-0.

And they're doing it with a complete game of consistent defense, clutch situational hitting and — as was the case on Sunday — just enough pitching to win.

"I can't say enough about my kids because they play hard and stay in the game until the end," said Nuts manager Lenn Sakata.

"They have a kind of style where they wait and wait to get going on offense, and if our pitchers keep us in the game this kind of thing happens. They respond when they feel their back is against the wall."

Swanner's three-run double — the second of his three hits — forged a 5-5 tie after Modesto had fallen behind 4-0 in the first inning.

Relievers Geoff Parker, Russell Brewer (1-0), Kenny Roberts and Scott Oberg allowed only one hit over the final five innings, giving the offense ample time to rally.

Modesto pushed across the winning run in the seventh as Jose Rivera led off with a walk and remained there with two out. On a 2-2 pitch, with Rivera running, Taylor Featherston slapped a single to left-center.

Rivera never stopped running, got the green light from third base coach Jon Stone, and scored without a play when the throw from the outfield went to second base instead of to the cutoff man.

Had Visalia executed the outfield play correctly, there might have been a play at the plate. On the other hand, Modesto is starting to take advantage of the oppositions' mistakes — both large and small — which is something they didn't do in the first half of the season.

"The stuff that's happening right now with these kids tells me they're starting to get it," Sakata said. "There are too many imposters in baseball the way it's set up right now.

"Scouts are looking for tools instead of looking for guys who can actually play the game. A system that stresses wanting to win is what teaches the kids how to win. But to play just to play, just to develop tools, isn't developing players."

Modesto starter Chris Jensen has struggled in his three starts since being named to the California League All-Star team, and this time was fortunate to get out of the first inning.

After walking leadoff hitter Kevin Medrano on nine pitches, Jensen gave up four straight singles as the Rawhide grabbed an immediate 4-0 lead.

Jensen was solid after that, but taking 35 pitches to get out of the first inning limited his outing to four innings. Over his last three starts Jensen has worked only 12 innings while allowing 20 hits and 14 earned runs.

Visalia starter Robert Coe's start was the exact opposite, as the lanky righty signed by Arizona out of independent professional baseball kept the Nuts hitless until two outs in the fifth.

Swanner broke up the no-hitter with a solid double into the left-field corner, and the shutout disappeared when Trevor Story followed with a double to left-center.

When Visalia answered with an unearned run, Coe took a 5-1 lead into the bottom of the sixth, having thrown only 56 pitches to that point.

He wouldn't finish the sixth. Tyler Massey lined a one-out single, Brian Humphries walked and Featherston drove home Massey with a single.

One out later, Jared Simon was hit by a pitch to load the bases and Swanner unloaded them with his double.

"I saw from previous at-bats that he was throwing about one curveball per batter," Swanner said. "On the 2-2 count with the bases loaded, I was expecting his go-to pitch, which is the fastball. I was just trying to hit it somewhere hard — not trying to do too much."

Now comes the real test for Modesto. The Nuts will be playing 19 of their next 25 games away from John Thurman Field — a streak that begins and ends with twin three-game series at nemesis San Jose.

"Now is when we'll find out if we have what it takes," Sakata said. "But this is exactly why we play — we want to find out if we can win when it matters. That's what I want to find out."

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

 Two-time Olympic gold medalist Erin Cafaro threw out the first pitch for the Nuts Sunday, but a person with six NBA and two World Series title rings also was in the house. Read Brian VanderBeek's blog at modbee.com/blogs

 

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