Oberg is closing the deal for Nuts

bvanderbeek@modbee.comAugust 20, 2013 

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    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.
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    E-mail: bvanderbeek@modbee.com

— To the outsider, Scott Oberg is in the perfect spot to be a closer.

He's playing for a Modesto Nuts team that's getting great pitching from all starters and relievers — one with an offense that seldom throws up a lot of runs.

It's a recipe for many close games, such as Saturday's 3-1 win over Bakersfield, and it makes life exciting and fruitful for a guy whose job it is to get the final three outs.

But to Oberg, Modesto isn't the perfect spot as much as it's just the place where he's getting the chance to develop his skills.

"It is nice, but at the end of the day we're in this together and closing is my role in helping this team win," Oberg said.

Modesto's sixth straight win — coming in front of 3,711 at John Thurman Field — puts it three games ahead of Visalia in the race for the California League North Division second-half crown with 15 games remaining, giving the Nuts a magic number of 13.

After starter Ben Alsup (11-8) allowed one unearned run over eight innings, Modesto pushed across two runs in the bottom of the eighth and turned it over to a guy who has been all but automatic in save situations.

In working a quick and perfect ninth, Oberg has 29 saves in 34 chances. The 29 saves tie him with Jim Brink of the 1999 Modesto A's for second-most in franchise history, and Oberg's only four off the all-time mark of 33 set by Craig Baker in 2009.

"Oberg has had times when his command has gone south on him, but you have to like your chances when you send him out there," said Nuts' manager Fred Nelson. "He's one of the guys who has contributed all year for us."

But what sets Oberg apart from most of the guys who came before him is his position within the Colorado organization. It's rare that a major league team drafts a pitcher to be a closer. But that's what the Rockies did in 2012, taking Oberg in the 15th round out of the University of Connecticut.

The righty went 13-for-15 in save chances last year in Grand Junction, then was skipped over Low-A directly to Modesto, where he's allowed only 30 hits and had struck out 56 in 47 innings.

"They drafted me because they liked what they saw and I'll be happy to pitch in whatever role they ask," Oberg said. "I don't know if I'm being groomed as a closer. It was a role I fell into at school and I kind of worked my way through the bullpen there. I'm fortunate to be able to throw as often as I have this year and have the kind of success I'm having."

Alsup was put in position for the win — and Oberg for the save — when the Nuts cashed-in against Bakersfield reliever Jimmy Moran (2-1.)

Will Swanner greeted Moran by working a leadoff walk, and Swanner moved to second on Harold Riggins' grounder to the right side. Brian Humphries reached on an infield hit to move Swanner to third and David Kandilas came through with the go-ahead single.

The Nuts added insurance when Humphries scored as Matt Wessinger beat out an infield hit, giving Oberg that much more wriggle room.

"It all was big," Nelson said. "Again, the guys hung in long enough to make things happen in the end."

Modesto didn't get a runner to second until the fifth, when Trevor Story led off with a double. He scored one out later when Riggins dumped a 2-2 pitch into right field for a single and a 1-0 Nuts lead.

Blaze starter Fabian Williams was done after seven innings, having allowed one run on four hits, no walks and five strikeouts.

"That guy (Williams) really did well," Alsup said. "It was a battle between he and I and we weren't going to give in. That was fun."

But in the end, Oberg had the most fun, because that's what closers get to experience in exchange for dealing with the pressure.

"It's been up and down all year and it's great to see this chemistry, where everybody is clicking right now," Oberg said.

"We're playing pretty good baseball right now and this is the time of year to get hot, get into the playoffs and go after a championship."

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