Modesto Nuts ground the high-flying Lancaster JetHawks

bvanderbeek@modbee.comAugust 6, 2013 

— Modesto pitcher Ben Alsup had everything going — his fastball, his slider, his control.

But his best asset against the Lancaster JetHawks was his short memory.

The Modesto Nuts' righty, who was roughed up for seven runs and 10 hits three weeks ago in Lancaster, hurled six scoreless innings Tuesday night as the Nuts held on for a 2-1 victory at John Thurman Field.

"You have to forget about that stuff because short-term memory can be your best friend," said Alsup, 9-8 after winning his last six decisions.

"I didn't pitch as well as I would have liked, and I fell behind some batters. But I made some good pitches and the guys behind me were running down the ball and jumping up the walls. I had to force myself just to throw it over the plate."

The Nuts scored two runs in the first inning and made them hold up as they climbed within one game of .500 overall for the first time since April.

"That's a good jump-off point for us, to battle back to .500," said manager Fred Nelson. "The guys are playing well and with confidence — the pitching has been very good and we're getting key hits. Those were things we weren't doing a lot earlier.

"We'll just keep charging and pushing in the right direction."

If the Nuts are going to make a charge at the playoffs, it will have to start from the mound, and it won't be easy. Staff ace Dan Winkler was promoted to Double-A Tulsa last week, as was starter Eddie Butler.

Those are solid, consistent starts that will have to be absorbed by the rest of the staff. Jon Gray, who arrived last week, will take the five-inning spot start vacated by Butler, but that still leaves the all-but guaranteed seven-inning role up for grabs, and the good news for the Nuts is that Alsup is only one of several players capable of stepping up.

"Ben battled really good against a good offensive club that strings together good at-bats," Nelson said. "They work a lot of deep counts because they're big on on-base percentage, but Ben was able to keep them off the bases."

The Nuts jumped on JetHawks starter Luis Cruz for a quick two-run lead, taking advantage of luck and some shaky defense.

David Kandilas walked and was on second base when Ryan Casteel hit a hard ground ball to the left side that hit the lip of the infield grass and bounced high into left field. Kandilas had to hold on the play, but he turned it on to score when left fielder Dan Gulbransen bobbled the ball, an error that also moved Casteel to second base.

The extra 90 feet paid off when Taylor Featherston hit a grounder up the middle that was kept on the infield on a dive by shortstop Nolan Fontana. Casteel never stopped running around third, and would have been out by a wide margin at home, but Fontana's throw to the plate was dropped by catcher Tyler Heineman for the inning's second error.

"The bad hop was big as was the ball up the middle that led to the play at the plate," Nelson said. "We very well still could be playing."

The Nuts would collect only two hits the rest of the way, as Alsup and relievers Kraig Sitton, Bruce Kern and Scott Oberg turned the action over to the defense.

And no one played better in the field than Kandilas, who in the fourth inning ran back to the barrier in deep left-center, took a leap and pulled down the extra-base hit bid of M.P. Cokinos. In his next at-bat, Cokinos again challenged the wall in left-center with a deep drive that would have been long gone in Lancaster, only to have the ball settle harmlessly into the glove of Kandilas.

But that's how teams manage to escape with 2-1 victories, which is a rare score in the high scoring California League. It's even more rare when Lancaster — the highest-scoring team in professional baseball — is one of the teams involved.

But the Nuts will take it. Gladly.

"Showing we can win games like this, 2-1, is huge for the confidence of this team," Alsup said. "It's something we haven't been able to do, so it shows that things are turning around for us."

Brian VanderBeek is a Bee staff writer; reach him at (209) 578-2300 or e-mail

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