Modesto Nuts stifled by California League’s hottest pitcher

bvanderbeek@modbee.comApril 22, 2014 

OK, Cincinnati, the California League has seen enough of Ben Lively. It’s time to send him home.

The Reds, the parent club of the Bakersfield Blaze, have an emerging ace on their hands. They know it and the Modesto Nuts have no desire to see the talented right-hander ever again.

Lively, in his first full professional season, admittedly didn’t have his best stuff Tuesday night, but still managed to limit the Nuts to one hit over seven innings in Bakersfield’s 4-0 victory at John Thurman Field.

Home for Lively is Pensacola, Fla,. which also is home to the Reds’ Double-A affiliate, the Blue Wahoos.

And since Lively, in four starts this season, is 4-0 with a 0.38 ERA, his days in Bakersfield just might be numbered.

“Moving up is always something I think about, said Lively, 22. “I get texts after every game from my mom. She tells me that she’s going to start cooking right away because I’m coming home soon. She’s messing with me, and I know that if I keep pitching well things will work out.”

A year ago at this time, Lively was pitching for the University of Central Florida. Cincinnati took him in the fourth round, and merely starting him this season in a High-A league shows their confidence in his ability and poise.

Lively has done nothing to show the Reds their decision was misguided. In 24 innings, he’s allowed eight hits while striking out 33.

When he walked David Kandilas to open Tuesday’s game it was the first and only free pass he’s issued this season. The only run Lively has allowed this season came in his first start on April 6, on a solo homer by Kandilas.

Since then, nothing. Enough already, Reds.

“He’s a competitor and he knows how to pitch,” said Nuts’ manager Don Sneddon. “He’s not overpowering, but he hits his locations and the hitters were saying that his ball seems to have life at the end.”

Modesto’s Andrew Brown (0-2) also had an impressive outing, but for a completely different reason. By the time Brown got out of the first inning he had given up a run on three walks and a wild pitch, and because he threw 37 pitches there was action in the Nuts’ bullpen.

Brown settled down quickly and managed to get through 4 2/3 innings, allowing two runs on three hits, with five walks being his undoing.

“We didn’t know how long we could go with him, but he was able to settle down and that was a good moment for him in this learning process,” Sneddon said. “He pitched well the rest of the way, but we can’t come out with a first inning like that. It sets a bad tone.”

One night after scoring nine straight runs in a 9-5 victory, Modesto managed only two hits. Matt Wessinger singled to right in the second inning, and Jordan Ribera singled to left in the eighth.

That was it, and if Kandilas hadn’t swiped a base following his first-inning walk, the Nuts wouldn’t have touched second base all night.

And this was the output against Lively on a night in which it took him longer than normal to get the feel of his offspeed pitches.

It was the coldest night of the young season, with the temperatures dipping into the mid-50s, and Lively said he was affected by the weather early. He was able to spot his two- and four-seam fastballs, working at 90-92 mph, but missed badly early in the game with his curveball and changeup.

“The ball was slick because it was a little chilly,” Lively said. “I couldn’t get a good grip for a while and I didn’t work up a sweat under the third inning. Once I started sweating I started feeling better and had more grip.”

Lively’s bound to face a few chilly and dry early-season evenings in the California League, as opposed to the moist conditions he would see pitching the Southern League.

Yet another reason for the Reds to move him along – a decision the Nuts, and Lively’s mom, certainly would favor.

Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at bvanderbeek@modbee.com or (209) 578-2150. His blog is at www.modbee.com/brianvanderbeek.

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