It's easy to start taking Modesto Nuts ace Brandon Hynick for granted, even as he delivers another complete game performance.
But Jeff Kindel bunting for one of his four hits and stealing two bases? That's news, and it is indicative of how things are coming together for the Nuts.
Sunday's 7-1 victory over Bakersfield qualifies as another example of how Modesto has emerged as a complete team — certainly one that will have a say in the California League second-half race.
The Nuts have won seven of eight to maintain hold of a share of first place in the North Division. But in doing so, they've established a formula of great pitching and relentless offense.
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That's a welcome change from the first half of the season, when a lot of outstanding Modesto pitching was squandered by the lack of a hitting attack.
"That's just baseball," said Hynick, who allowed four hits and struck out a season-high 11. "We win or lose as a team and we can't blame it on any part of the game or take credit when things go right. But it's been fun in here. We've been playing well."
Hynick's third complete game of the season is one more than the entire Colorado Rockies' staff and comes on the heels of his shortest two outings of the season. He lasted a total of 5º innings over his last two starts, giving up seven earned runs on 13 hits and five walks.
But against the Blaze, Hynick (10-2) allowed a leadoff single to Truan Mehl in the first inning and would not allow another hit until Ben Harrison broke up the shutout bid with a long home run to left field leading off the seventh inning. Chris Davis also singled in the seventh to extend his hitting streak to 28 games — the longest in the California League this season.
"It was a bad pitch selection for that first batter, but I was able to stay focused," Hynick said. "Perhaps in my last few starts I wouldn't have been able to keep the focus. I did a better job before the game preparing for this one."
Kindel also had been preparing for a night like Sunday. The Nuts all bunt as part of the daily batting practice routine.
"We do work on bunting a lot, and Jeff's good at it but he's been reticent to do it," Nuts manager Jerry Weinstein said. "He was also begging to steal a base today."
Going into Sunday, Kindel was steal-free in three attempts this season, although he did steal four last season for Tri City. In the third inning, with the Nuts leading 2-0, he led off with a bunt single, then stole second and third. He was stranded there, but the first baseman's new reputation was established.
"Kindel's giving a clinic right now, and that's what I told E.Y. (Eric Young Jr.) after the game, that Kindel will be holding a clinic on baserunning and bunting before tomorrow's game," Weinstein said.
The Blaze bobbled their way into a 2-0 deficit, committing four errors in the first two innings — three by shortstop David Peterson — to seal the fate of starter Michael Schlact (5-5.) That was all the scoring until the sixth, when Schlact walked Travis Becktel with one out and was pulled after walking Young with two out.
Reliever Matt Farnum entered and promptly picked Young off first base, but the speedy infielder remained in the rundown long enough for Becktel to make a clean break from third base. Becktel beat the throw home and Young completed the double steal by cruising into second base.
Two pitches later, Chris Nelson launched an impressive off-field home run to right field to give the Nuts a 5-0 lead. It was his ninth homer of the season, tying him with Daniel Carte for the team lead.
"We're hitting well as a team and are doing a good job up and down the lineup," Kindel said. "We've also seen all these pitchers a few times and that helps a little bit, but we're just playing well right now."