The X factor of the Modesto Nuts' rotation pitched Thursday as if he had something to prove.
Xavier Cedeno, statistically the least-effective of the Nuts' five full-time starters, came up with a performance seemingly out of nowhere that stifled the bats of the first-place San Jose Giants in a 1-0 Modesto victory.
Cedeno's part was a season-longest 7º innings, four hits, two walks and five strikeouts that brought the Nuts their fifth consecutive victory, matching another season high. He did it by spotting his fastball in and out and mixing in a curveball, slider and changeup — all of which he threw for strikes on demand.
"I have been working hard on my mechanics, trying hard to control my breaking pitches," Cedeno, a native of Puerto Rico, said through interpreter Lino Garcia. "My arm has been getting more loose, and it lets me throw my fastball better."
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The only previous win for Cedeno (2-5) came June 2 at Stockton, and the Nuts were only 4-7 through his first 11 starts. That stretch of ineffectiveness came after he left his first start of the season — April 9 against San Jose — with a shoulder injury, causing him to miss four weeks.
"After rehab, I have been a little wild," Cedeno said. "It's been hard for me to find the strike zone, but now I feel more comfortable, and that's why I think I had success tonight."
He almost was matched pitch-for-pitch by San Jose's Paul Oseguera (6-4), who took the loss in a complete-game performance. Oseguera, the former UCLA closer, was making his fifth start against the Nuts and had a shaky first inning that was enough to cost him.
Eric Young Jr. led off the Nuts' first with a single and stole second, then scored easily on Neil Wilson's one-out single to left. Modesto went on to load the bases with one out, but Oseguera got Cole Garner to ground into an inning-ending double play.
That was it for the scoring. Modesto would get only four more baserunners and only one as far as third.
"Oseguera is a good pitcher," Cedeno said. "He was trying to stay away from the plate with breaking pitches, and our hitters were chasing those. I also was trying to stay off the plate, but with my fastball."
San Jose got a leadoff double in the third inning but didn't threaten again until the eighth. Pablo Sandoval led off with a single and Will Thompson lined a one-out double to right field to push Sandoval to third.
Cedeno enticed an infield grounder from Antoan Richardson for the second out, then Andrew Johnston came on and got Brian Bocock on a grounder to third to end the threat.
Pedro Strop gave up a one-out walk in the ninth before striking out the last two Giants. It was the first career save for the converted infielder and first for the Nuts since June 14.
Considering the source, opponent and time of year, it qualifies as one of the season's memorable staff pitching efforts.
"Cedeno was masterful," Nuts manager Jerry Weinstein said. "He had fastballs to both sides and had command of the changeup and breaking ball and slider. That plays well at any level.
"Then Johnston comes in and gets that very big out, and Petey comes in and shuts the door. That's a real save a 1-0 ballgame."