Lars Davis had the best seat in the house for the best Modesto Nuts' game of the young season.
Not only was Davis behind the plate as three Nuts pitchers, led by starter Connor Graham, held Visalia scoreless, but he also had three hits and was the one touching the plate to score the game's lone run in Modesto's 1-0 victory over the Rawhide.
Davis doubled to deep right-center with two outs in the 10th off Visalia's Jeff Dietz (0-2) and scored when Radames Nazario followed with a double down the left field line.
The Nuts scored only 12 runs in taking two of three games from the Rawhide, but -- as was the case with Thursday's lone run -- nine of those runs scored after Modesto had two outs and no runners aboard.
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The win pulled the Nuts within a game of first-place Visalia in the California League North Division with 29 games left. But Modesto now enters its most difficult stretch of the first half, playing its next 12 games on the road -- starting today with the opener of a four-game set at third-place San Jose.
Nothing has come easy for Davis this season. He entered the game hitting .213 as part of Modesto's catching tandem with Wilin Rosario, who is hitting .222, and when you have two starting catchers the net effect is that neither is a starter.
To begin the season, Davis and Rosario were alternating catching duties. Then, for a span of a couple weeks, one would catch two days in a row before giving way for two days. Now, they're back to the every-other-day rotation.
On the surface, it might seem like such an arrangement might guarantee only that neither catcher would be able to find a groove -- a comfortable daily routine. But Davis isn't thinking that way.
"You always want to play every day and you always want to find a way to be in the lineup, but I really think this is a good situation for both of us this year," Davis said. "It gives us a chance to push each other because neither of us can get complacent. We can make each other better and help both of us get to the next level."
Graham found a new level in front of Thursday's crowd of 1,879, using 102 pitches to work into the eighth inning for the first time this season. He struck out nine, did not issue a walk for the first time this season and allowed only two Rawhide runners to reach second base.
"Connor had a great start, with all three pitches working, and he went right after the hitters," Davis said. "It's the best I've seen him all year and it was a big step forward for him tonight with his control and his poise."
Graham gave way to Edgmer Escalona after a one-out throwing error by shortstop Hector Gomez put a runner at second base in the eighth. Escalona retired all five batters he faced, and closer Craig Baker (1-1) survived a walk and an infield error in the 10th to get his first win.
As good as Graham was, he found himself as only half of the best California League pitching duel of the season, matched zero for zero by Visalia starter Josh Collmenter. The lanky, over-the-top delivery of Collmenter, a righty from Central Michigan University, kept the Nuts off balance for seven innings.
He allowed singles in the second inning to Jason Van Kooten and Davis, a single in the third to Jeff Cunningham and another single to Davis in the fifth, and that was all. Cunningham eventually made it around to third base on a sacrifice bunt and a ground ball to the right side, but was the only visitor to Jerry Weinstein in the third base coach's box until he waved Davis home with the winning run.
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.