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Nuts keep it tight to beat Blaze

The most effective pitch in baseball, at least in the Gospel According to the Colorado Rockies, is the inside fastball.

Whether thrown for a ball or a strike, it keeps hitters off-balance and guessing at what's coming next.

It's a simple philosophy, but one used very effectively by Modesto Nuts starter Alan Johnson in a 4-3 victory Saturday night over the Bakersfield Blaze.

"Johnson put a clinic together on how to pitch inside," said Nuts manager Jerry Weinstein, whose team has won six of seven. "All the pitchers are trying to do it, and he's capable of doing it. He pitched inside off the plate and he pitched inside for strikes, and you saw the kind of success he had, and what kind of difference it makes."

Johnson (7-4) allowed two runs over a very solid eight innings, allowing five hits and a walk while matching his season high with nine strikeouts.

"I guess my last few outings have been good in that I've felt I can locate pretty much anything," Johnson said. "I'm throwing my fastball inside and out and keeping the batters guessing.

"It's always important to throw inside, because it sets up my breaking ball. It's always good to keep the hitters honest. If you keep staying away, the batters can reach over and hit the ball."

Bakersfield's Ronald Bay (3-7) pitched well in his return from the disabled list. He made a tight pitch count last through four innings, and allowed only one run on five hits with four strikeouts.

The Nuts appeared to have a big inning brewing in the second when they loaded the bases with nobody out on two singles and an infield error. But Bay struck out Lino Garcia, and got a first-pitch double play grounder from Cole Garner to end the threat.

Modesto got the clutch hit in the third, as Jeff Kindel's two-out single to right-center scored Chris Nelson with the game's first run.

The Nuts quickly got to reliever J.B. Diaz in the fifth inning. Nelson led off with a double, and Justin Nelson scorched the next pitch over the fence in center for his third home run in 14 games with Modesto.

"The at-bat of the inning was (Justin) Nelson's," Weinstein said. "The first goal is to get him over to third (with a ground ball), the second is to drive him over (with a hit) and the next thing is to get yourself in and he got the trifecta. You can't want anything more in that situation."

Neil Wilson doubled over third base to keep the inning alive and scored on Daniel Carte's two-strike single for a 4-0 lead.

Johnson retired the first nine batters he faced before getting in and out of trouble in the fourth. The Blaze loaded the bases on three singles, including one by Chris Davis that extended his hitting streak to 27 games.

But with two outs, a ground ball up the middle by Freddie Thon was smothered on a dive by Chris Nelson, who flipped the ball to second baseman Eric Young Jr. just in time for the third out.

Bakersfield finally got to Johnson in the seventh when Micah Furtado's two-out RBI double was followed by Brian Valichka's run-scoring single that pulled the Blaze within 4-2. But Johnston remained in the game and finished with a flurry by retiring the side in order in the eighth.

Pedro Strop worked the ninth and loaded the bases with one out on a single and two walks. Valichka brought home a run with a sacrifice fly, but Strop got pinch-hitter Nickolas Cadena on a pop fly to secure his second save in as many opportunities.

"He dug himself a hole, and then filled it up, and that's what a good closer does," Weinstein said.