MODESTO — Its a dead heat on whats more impressive these days for the Modesto Nuts: The effortless smoke thrown by phenom Jon Gray, or the effect the smoke has on his new team.
Even on what he termed a not-so-good outing, Gray blanked the San Jose Giants for four innings on a warm Wednesday night. Four innings later, the Nuts broke a 1-1 tie with the kind of clutch stuff that produced a 3-1 victory and a series-capturing statement at Thurman Field.
Gray, reduced to a pitch-count, exited after four innings. More important, the Nuts have won during all three of his outings, which is why they lead Visalia with 19 games left in the California League second-half race in the North.
Fact is, you cant coach a 101-mph fastball. Gray lit up the speed gun with that number in the first inning while Matt Duffy fouled it off. What lit up Gray was his four walks during his 75-pitch foray.
Im a little upset about it. I made good pitches when I needed to but I missed the zone a lot, he said. I havent walked three guys in a game since last year.
Consider Grays whirlwind last two months: Pitched Oklahoma to the NCAA Super Regional final, drafted No. 3 overall by Colorado, sipped a cup of coffee with the Rockies Rookie League team in Grand Junction, and finally promoted to Modesto for his third start.
Here, Grays numbers spell l-e-g-it: 14 innings, 0 runs, 7 singles, 18 strikeouts, five walks.
He did a great job. He pounded the pounded the zone, catcher Ryan Casteel said. His command was maybe not what he wanted. Hes just incredible to catch. Hes so smooth and his mechanics are flawless.
Casteel, continuing his breakout season, slugged Modesto into the lead in the eighth. With Taylor Featherston at third with one out and San Joses infield and outfield pulled in, Casteel poked a slider over the head of centerfielder Eliott Blair for the go-ahead triple. Trevor Story chased home Casteel with a single to right.
Featherston started the rally with a crisp single to left off Jose Casilla (3-7), then stole second on a pitchout. Nuts newcomer Matt Wessinger then fisted a broken-bat grounder to first to advance Featherston. Featherston and Wessinger keyed the inning with the kind of execution the team often has lacked.
So selfless, Casteel said of Wessinger. Thats what won us the game.
So did Gray and reliever Ryan Arrowood (1-0) with his own four innings. Arrowood yielded Mac Williamsons RBI drive off the wall in center in the fifth, but thats the only run hes allowed in five Modesto appearances.
Scott Oberg, buoyed Modestos eruption in the eighth, dodged a leadoff walk with three straight strikeouts for his 27th save.
Modesto staked Gray to a low-budget run and a 1-0 lead in the first. Featherston greeted San Jose lefty Adalberto Mejia with a single to left and later scored after Casteels soft single and Jared Simons fielders choice.
Mejia, a lefty from the Dominican Republic, answered Gray with low-90s craftiness for six innings.
Mejia already twice beat the Nuts this season on either side of a stop on the disabled list, and he did not lack confidence. He retired nine straight Modestans at one point and finished his night with his third strikeout of Harold Riggins in the sixth.
The night eventually belonged to the Nuts, however, in their final meeting against San Jose.
When Jon (Gray) got in trouble, he kept his composure. Thats a sign of a competitor, manager Fred Nelson said. Hes giving us a chance to win. Were all pulling together.
Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2302. Follow Ron via Twitter, @modbeesports