UPDATE: 5:50 P.M.
Jon Gray, who has made as big an initial splash as any first-year professional pitcher ever sent to Modesto, has been shut down for the rest of the season by the Colorado Rockies.
Gray, 4-0, 0.75, in five starts in Modesto, was scheduled to pitch Friday's home game against Stockton and would have been a key cog in the Nuts' playoff run. Instead, he was removed from the Nuts' roster on Friday and replaced by Asheville ace T.J. Oakes, who will make Friday's start.
Because Gray had thrown 129 innings this spring for the University of Oklahoma prior to being drafted in the first round by the Rockies, his pro starts had been limited to five innings. Still, in 24 innings with Modesto he was nearly unhittable, recording 36 strikeouts against six walks.
Between his college and pro starts this season, Gray had logged 166 innings this year, which is more than a full load for any first-year pro pitcher.
"I told the team and there is some disappointment," said Nuts' manager Fred Nelson. "But we all certainly understand the move. That's a lot of innings he's thrown and I wasn't fully aware of how many he had thrown in college."
Oakes was an 11th round pick of the Rockies in the 2012 draft out of the University of Minnesota. He was 9-8 with a 4.27 ERA this season for Asheville.
(initial blog post follows)
MODESTO - Just a few housekeeping notes as the Nuts get ready to clinch their second straight California League North Division second-half title.
EN FUEGO: The fire on the banks of the Tuolumne River directly across Neece Ave., from John Thurman Field on Wednesday night was more than just a flicker.
Smoke started rising from the area around 6:30, and by the time two fire department tankers arrived on the scene roughly 15 minutes later it had grown to almost a half-acre and was spreading quickly.
No structures ever were in danger, nor did there appear to be any chance of the first jumping the road to threaten cars or structures at the ballpark, but fires of any size seem to gather crowds.
About 12 members of the Inland Empire 66ers left their cozy clubhouse to watch the fire, with at least three players crossing the street to get a closer view.
That part of the river, with its banks lined with trees and ample dry brush, seems to burn during a baseball game about once every 2-3 years. On several occasions fires have been started in that area during postgame fireworks shows.
And bringing this back to the hot team on the field, the Nuts’ current streak of 14 wins in 16 games in their best since becoming a Colorado affiliate in 2005.
The 2007 Nuts went 14-3 at the end of July, the 2011 Nuts went on a 13-4 run in August, and the 2006 Nuts won 16 of 20, also in August.
That 2007 team won 42 games in the second half, which is the most ever in any half by a Nuts’ team. This year’s team carried a 40-25 second-half record into Thursday’s game.
The all-time franchise record is safe. The 1994 Modesto A’s went 50-18 in the first half and followed that with a 46-22 second half for an ridiculous 96-40 season in a 136-game schedule.
THE DECLINE OF THE WHIFF: I followed ad nauseum the Nuts’ strikeout pace through the season because they were on track to become the first full-season team in professional baseball history to average striking out 10-plus times per game.
Not coincidentally, Modesto’s hot streak has run parallel with a decrease in striking out. So entering Thursday’s game the Nuts had whiffed 1,318 times in 135 games. Unless they strikeout 82 times over their last five games, the not-so-magical 1,400 “K” total is safe.
But the record chase continues. The Nuts already have the all-time Modesto season whiff record, which had been the 1,266 strikeouts suffered by the 1970 Modesto Reds.
The California League record, held by the 2011 High Desert Mavericks, is 1,344 and all-time professional full-season record is 1,382, set by low-A Dayton in 2004. So, entering Thursday, Modesto is only 26 whiffs short of the California League record with five games left.