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Young's speed, hot bat setting tone for Nut teammates

Modesto Nuts coaches have preached patience all season, claiming their young team eventually would catch up to the California League.

Young team? They might just as well have been saying "Young's team," because ever since Eric Young Jr. has found his offensive stride, the Nuts have boasted the league's most potent offense.

Monday, Young had three more hits, scored three more runs, stole another base and reached base five times as Modesto crushed Bakersfield 15-2 for the Nuts' eighth win in their last nine games.

Brandon Durden (5-6) threw six scoreless innings and was the beneficiary of this latest offensive glut. By the end of the fourth inning, every Nuts player had hit safely and scored. Daniel Carte finished with four hits to pace Modesto's season-best 20-hit attack.

Over the last eight games, Young is hitting .515 with 15 runs, nine RBIs and is 10-for-10 in stolen base attempts. The streak has raised his average from .248 to a season-high .275 — not bad considering he was hitting .224 as recently as May 25.

"It's 100 percent mental," Young said. "The physical game is always going to be there. It's just a matter of focusing on what I need to do, and relaxing myself. Over the span of the season, all the repetitions and the work, I knew it would come around eventually."

Also predictable was the domino effect for the rest of the lineup.

Young leads the league in stolen bases with 46, and naturally commands a great amount of attention when he reaches. It also means a lot of fastballs for the players fortunate enough to hit when he's on base.

"When the leadoff guy gets on, the rest of the lineup gets better," hitting coach Dave Hajek said. "That's what E.Y. is doing, what Chris Nelson is doing, and guys like Justin Nelson, Jeff Kindel and Carte are making the most of those opportunities."

Young's first-inning journey around the bases Monday came without the benefit of a hit. He walked on four pitches, stole second, and sprinted home from there on a wild pickoff throw by Kendy Batista (3-2).

It was the first of four errors by the Blaze, boosting its bobble total to 20 in eight games this season at John Thurman Field. Not coincidentally, Bakersfield is winless at Modesto this year.

"You've lost two games in the series and you're just trying to salvage one here and you get semi-demoralized in the first inning when you get behind without giving up a hit," Nuts manager Jerry Weinstein said.

But it was a mental error that allowed the game to be blown wide open during a seven-run Modesto second inning.

With two outs and runners at the corners, Batista picked Cole Garner off first base. Garner got into a rundown and made it to second base with a stolen base when the Blaze botched the play. The next seven Nuts went on to reach safely on six hits and a walk.

"We had good at-bats and that was something we could be proud of," Weinstein said. "The game was over in the second inning when we got up 8-0 with a full bullpen the way Brandon Durden was pitching. Yet we continued to have quality at-bats, and that speaks greatly to the fiber of this ballclub."

Fiber?

This team is far too young to worry about such things.

Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at bvanderbeek@modbee.com or at 578-2300.

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