There will come a time this season when the Modesto Nuts will feast on their offense. But for now, they're getting fat on the doughnuts provided by their pitching staff.
The Nuts followed Tuesday's 10-inning shutout victory over San Jose with one of regulation length Wednesday, completing a three-game sweep of the defending California League champions with a 4-0 victory.
The fact that the Nuts continue to struggle at the plate is something not showing up in the standings, if only because Modesto pitchers held the Giants scoreless for the final 26 innings of this three-game set. The Nuts collected only four hits Wednesday and 17 in the sweep and are hitting .186 in their 4-3 start. Conversely, the Nuts have posted an opening staff ERA of 2.36.
"You see a guy ahead of you throw a scoreless inning after the guy ahead of him throws six scoreless, and it inspires you to go out there and keep it going," said left-handed reliever Tommy Baumgardner, who got the win in his third consecutive scoreless outing to open the season. "You don't want to be the guy that gives it up. You're going to go in there with adrenaline and get it done."
Aneury Rodriguez, who allowed six runs and six hits in his first outing at Stockton, turned it around in his second start. He worked six innings, allowing three hits and no walks while striking out eight.
"That was a different Rodriguez on the mound, and it was against a real good ballclub," pitching coach Butch Hughes said. "He pitched with confidence, he kept the ball down, and he changed speeds."
As was the case in Tuesday's extra-inning affair, San Jose's pitching was almost as effective as Modesto's. The Nuts were held scoreless on two hits over six innings by Giants starter Kevin Puceta, then were boosted to victory by a wild four-run eighth inning that featured only one hit and three Giants errors.
With one out, Cole Garner and Matt Repec drew walks off reliever Wilmin Rodriguez. Ryan Shaver entered for San Jose and gave up a hard double-play grounder by Travis Becktel that was booted by shortstop Sharlon Schoop as Garner scored. Anthony Jackson reached on an infield error to load the bases, and Repec scored on Geoff Strickland's ground ball.
Michael McKenry followed with a grounder to third that was booted for the third San Jose error of the inning, giving Modesto a 3-0 lead, and Mike Paulk contributed a ground-rule double to complete the scoring.
Will Harris worked the ninth to preserve the win and scoreless streak.
The Nuts' pitchers have one streak going, but Modesto's win snapped another streak the Giants had in their favor. On April 29, 2005, San Jose took control of first place in the first half North Division standings. They didn't give up the lead, then won the first half in 2006 and 2007 in wire-to-wire fashion.
They'll wake up this morning in second place in the first-half standings, looking up at Visalia's one-game lead, breaking a first-half streak that reached 206 days.
In the big picture, that streak is somewhat meaningless, except to underscore the consistent quality of team San Jose has had in this league. It also adds significance to the 26-inning scoreless streak posted by Nuts pitchers.
"It's a team game, and if you don't hit you'd better pitch," Nuts manager Jerry Weinstein said. "And if you don't pitch, you'd better hit."