The Colorado Rockies’ new system-wide emphasis on creating offense from little more than thin air paid off Saturday night in a Modesto Nuts’ victory.
The Rockies have gone as far as to create the position of organizational offensive cooridinator and putting former Nuts’ manager Jerry Weinstein in that post, and the final run scored by Modesto in its 3-2 victory Saturday night over Rancho Cucamonga came directly out of that expanded playbook.
The Nuts led 2-1 in the fifth inning and had Matt Wessinger at third base with two out. As Quakes’ starter Fabio Martinez came to the set position, Wessinger made sure Martinez was looking, then took three hard strides toward home.
A startled Martinez stepped came off the rubber and stepped toward third base, and Wessinger was able to stroll home on the balk.
“It’s ironic that we were working on bluffs today before batting practice,” said Nuts’ manager Don Sneddon. “Wessinger said he could do it and I asked him why we hadn’t seen it. He said `It’s because I haven’t got on base.’
“Sure enough, it comes up. That play brought a great smile to his face and it got us a win.”
But there are other ways team can score runs with a minimum of production up and down the lineup, and having a productive leadoff hitter might be the best. In Modesto’s case, Trevor Story has taken that leadoff role and literally run with it.
Story has hit third for much of his pro career, but moved into the leadoff role when the Nuts came to John Thurman Field for Thursday’s home opener. Over the three home games, Story has reached base in eight of 13 plate appearances.
In this lastest win he had two singles and two walks, scored twice and was credited with four of Modesto’s six stolen bases. Story is hitting .415 through Modesto’s first 10 games.
“I did hit leadoff a little in Asheville,” Story said. “I do like to be the table setter, a guy who gets on base and steals bases. It’s a good spot for me right now.”
And he’s fully on board with the concept of creating offense.
“It’s really just about taking advantage of the defense – getting dirt-ball reads and seeing passed balls and moving on the other team’s laziness or not paying attention to fast players,” Story said.
“That balk play was right out of Jerry’s book, and Stoney (hitting coach Jon Stone) also is a big advocate of that. Wes is the kind of guy who can pull it off.”
The Modesto pitching continues to improve off its forgettable seven-game road disaster that opened the season, and Matt Flemer was the latest starter to be sharp.
Flemmer, who gave up eight runs in only two innings in his first start at Visalia, turned those numbers around against the Blaze. He went 5 2/3 innings, giving up a single unearned run on five hits, while striking out five against two walks.
He was staked to a 1-0 lead in the first when Story walked, stole second and scored on Jordan Ribera’s booming off-field double to left center.
Rancho Cuncamonga turned a three-base error on a dropped fly ball in center by Wilson Soriano into the tying run in the fourth, but the Quakes turned generous during Modesto’s two-run fifth.
With one out, Story walked and again stole second, scoring on Wessinger’s single to center. When the throw toward home airmailed the cutoff man, Wessinger had an easy take of second base.
He took third on a passed ball and then make the bluff move at third look very natural to score the insurance run.
It was needed when Rancho Cucamonga got a run back in the seventh on Jeremy Rathjen’s RBI single off reliever Brandon Erbe, but Raul Fernandez converted Modesto’s first save opportunity of the season, stranding two Quakes in the process.
Chalk one up to the Rockies’ new brand of little ball. It’s all about the details.
“We have to do things like that right now because we’re not getting clutch hits,” Sneddon said. “But even when we start hitting you’ll see that. It’s going to be our brand of baseball.”