Nuts stymied by High Desert pitcher in search of history

bvanderbeek@modbee.comJune 20, 2014 

Dylan Unsworth breezed through the easiest seven innings of his professional career Friday night.

The tough part came after the game, when he had to wait a few hours before calling his family back home in South Africa to tell them the news.

“Everybody is sleeping right now,” the High Desert right-hander said after his Mavericks blanked the Modesto Nuts 7-0 in front of 4,088 at John Thurman Field. “I have to wait another hour or two just to call and tell them what I did tonight, that I got a win and that I probably pitched the best game of my five years in a Seattle Mariners uniform.”

It wasn’t just the best game the 21-year-old has thrown, it might have been the best performance the Nuts have seen this season. Unsworth needed only 84 pitches to get through seven innings, allowing three hits and no walks while striking out 12.

“Our hitters would vouch for how good he was,” Modesto manager Don Sneddon said. “His fastballs were on location, and he threw his curveball for strikes. Put those two together and he was tough.”

Technically, yes, it is a fastball – a sinking two-seamer that goes with a late-breaking curveball and a changeup. But Unsworth has no choice but to have pinpoint accuracy with the fastball, since it seldom tops 85 MPH.

“When I joined the Mariners in 2010, they took one look at me and told me that I wasn’t going to be someone who could overpower guys,” Unsworth said. “I was going to have to figure something out. I believe I can get hitters out, and that’s my strong point. That’s why I’m still wearing a jersey.

“I’ve seen guys throw 95 and get hit around, so if you can throw 85-89 and hit spots, I guess you can be good, too.”

So he’s a righty who doesn’t throw hard. That alone makes his path to the majors extremely difficult. But considering baseball isn’t exactly a common pastime in South Africa, just getting to the California League is quite an accomplishment.

“I started playing when I was about 6 years old,” Unsworth said. “My dad started coaching me, and we made up our own teams in Durbin. I grew in my love for the game, and it all started there.”

At 16, he attended a baseball academy in Italy, where he was spotted by the Seattle Mariners and signed.

“Going to that camp gave me this opportunity, and I grabbed it with two hands,” he said.

Unsworth (5-6) got all the runs he would need in the second inning, when High Desert parlayed a leadoff walk and three singles into two runs against Nuts starter Jayson Aquino (1-4). D.J. Peterson and Jody Lara collected the RBI singles.

Aquino, who allowed six singles over the first three innings, would allow only one more baserunner during the rest of his six-inning start and finished with a season-high 11 strikeouts.

“Aquino settled in after the third inning, and we’re excited to see that,” Sneddon said. “That’s the first time he’s pitched that well since spring training.”

The Mavericks put away the game with a five-run ninth against former Modesto closer Raul Fernandez, who faced seven batters and allowed three hits and three walks.

It was all overkill against a Nuts lineup that produced only four hits – two by Will Swanner – and finished with a season-worst 16 strikeouts against Unsworth and reliever Andrew Kittredge.

So what would it mean to Unsworth to be the first South African to play in the majors?

“I get butterflies every time someone asks me that question,” he said. “It’s amazing just to think about. I’d be speechless like I am right now.

“It’s expensive to get here, and my family has never been here to see me pitch. That’s a great part of my motivation to get to the top, to get my family here one day.”

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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