Featherston leads Modesto Nuts past Bakersfield Blaze

bvanderbeek@modbee.comAugust 16, 2013 

DN Nuts vs Jethawks

Taylor Featherston, 2B for the Modesto Nuts rounds first base after his double at John Thurman field in Modesto, Aug. 7, 2013 in game against the Lancaster Jethawks.

DEBBIE NODA — 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
    E-mail: bvanderbeek@modbee.com

There is no more superstitious group of athletes than baseball players.

If something works, whether it be a lucky pair of socks, pregame meal or putting on a right shoe before the left, baseball players will stay with it until the luck runs out.

Which brings us to Taylor Featherston and his place in the Modesto Nuts' batting order. Since Featherston was penciled-in at leadoff five games ago, the Nuts have not lost — a run that includes Friday's 6-3 win over Bakersfield.

So think there's a chance Featherston might find himself in that spot when the series resumes tonight?

"He's handled it well and it's kind of a feel thing," said Nuts manager Fred Nelson. "If things are going well, don't stir the pot. He's done a good job and the tendency would be to keep him there unless we make a decision not to."

It's not just that Featherston is batting leadoff, it's also that he's produced. In the five games, he's hitting .421 (eight-for-19) with four multi-hit games and has scored six runs, including three against the Blaze. It adds to to a great start to the season's final few weeks for Featherston.

"I hit leadoff all the time in spring training," said the former Texas Christian star. "I've hit everywhere in the order and the other day I was put in the leadoff spot and I've been there ever since. It doesn't bother me and it is a little bit of a different mindset, but I'm enjoying it and the team is having a good time."

The Nuts now enjoy a two-game lead over both Visalia and San Jose for the second-half North Division title with 16 games remaining, which means it might be time to introduce the magic number. It's 14, which signifies a division-clinching combination of Modesto wins and losses by the second-place team.

"It's contagious when it's going bad and it's contagious when it's going good," Featherston said. "Right now we're on a playoff run and trying to string things together.

"We're not looking ahead to anything, but playing every game like it's our last and it's working out. Up and down the order everybody is having good at-bats and we're really having fun."

Modesto needed all of five pitches to start having fun against Bakersfield.

Featherston reached on an infield error on the game's second pitch, and notorious first-pitch fastball hitter Brian Humphries laced a first-pitch fastball up the middle for a single.

Two pitches later, Trevor Story blasted an 0-1 fastball over the wall in deepest left, and the Nuts had a 3-0 lead before much of the sellout crowd of 4,703 had settled in.

Featherston was far from done. He doubled to lead off the third and eventually scored on a ground ball, then doubled again to lead off the fifth and scored on Humphries' triple to center. Will Swanner plated the sixth run with a sacrifice fly.

"We really don't have a prototypical leadoff guy," Nelson said. "We've tried different guys and it seems like it works for a while and then we end up making a change. A lot of our lineup has been like that."

Tyler Gagnon (11-9) used the scoring cushion to work seven innings, allowing three runs (one earned) on five hits. He walked two and struck out five before giving way to Patrick Johnson and Bruce Kern for the final two innings.

The five-game win streak is the team's second-longest of the season and it couldn't have come at a better time. The majority of these Nuts won the South Atlantic League title with Asheville last season and are starting to believe this season also will end in a very positive way.

"Baseball is a game of what have you done for me lately," Featherston said. "All we can do is win tonight, come back and win tomorrow."

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