Devin Burke never will have the hottest fastball on the Modesto Nuts’ staff. He won’t lead the team in strikeouts and because he pitches to contact, the odds of him flirting with a no-hitter are negligible.
But if there were a statistic for mental toughness on the mound, Burke would be off the charts.
The 23-year-old righty had nothing close to his best stuff on Friday night, so he beat the Stockton Ports with what he had – a fastball and moxie – grabbing the win in a 3-2 Nuts’ victory.
“I had a hard time throwing breaking balls for strikes, so that pretty much left me with my fastball and trying to command that on both sides of the plate, and that was tough,” Burke said.
“I got behind a lot of the hitters and was able to get back into some of the counts enough to make effective pitches when I needed to.”
Modesto has won four of five to match its best stretch of a disappointing first half.
Fortunately for the team and the front office bean-counters, the lack of wins on the field has not been felt in the stands. The fireworks-night crowd of 4,602 was the Nuts’ largest of the season.
And those in the stands who were paying attention had to appreciate what they were seeing from Burke, and would appreciate it more if they were aware of his back story.
Burke went undrafted out of Virginia Tech and signed with Colorado as a free agent last summer. The Rockies don’t have much invested in Burke, which is a reality he uses as motivation.
“If anything, it motivates me to do better, It did last year in Grand Junction and I think it helps keep me ahead of the curve because I have to prove myself every time, and to do that I have to be at my best,” said Burke, who in four May starts is 3-0 with a 1.19 ERA.
“Tonight, even though I wasn’t at my best, I was close to my best mentally and because of that I was able to keep us close.”
Even though Burke was lifted after five innings and 92 pitches, he earned the praise of his manager.
“He battled without a lot of bullets and kept us in the game,” Don Sneddon said. “Pitchers have to learn how to pitch that way because there are a lot of nights when they won’t have their best stuff.”
The Nuts pecked away at Ports starter Seth Streich for three runs wrapped around the eight strikeouts he recorded in 51/3 innings.
David Kandilas opened the bottom of the first with a triple to right-center and scored when Chris O’Dowd grounded out to first base.
In the third, O’Dowd reached on a fielder’s chioce, took second on a wild pitch and scored from there when Jordan Ribera’s ground ball into short right field against a radical infield shift was bobbled.
Modesto’s third run came when Streich walked Pat Valaika to open the sixth and Ribera beat the infield shift with a bloop single to left. After a pitching change, Derek Jones greeted reliever Josh Bowman with an RBI single to right.
Stockton got its only run against Burke in the fourth, when Renato Nunez worked a leadoff walk and scored when Bruce Maxwell drilled a double to right-center.
Burke was able to get through that inning with no more damage, which was his method through his stint.
The vast majority of his pitches were thrown out of the stretch, with Stockton collecting six hits and four walks while stranding eight while Burke was in the game.
Modesto followed with a bullpen parade, with Nate Striz, John Keck and Rayan Gonzalez getting the Nuts to the ninth, where Raul Hernandez notched his seventh save in as many opportunities this season.
“We’re playing much better ball,” Sneddon said. “Tonight was the first time I’ve been able to be involved in a game where I could bring pitchers in, playing that part of the game with a one-run lead. I think you’ll see better baseball from us from here on.”