Meet the Modesto Nuts -- an offensive juggernaut.
No, those are two phrases that just don't work well together, or at least hadn't through the first three months of the season.
But now that it's July, everything has changed. The pitching, which has been solid all year, has remained steady while the Modesto batters suddenly have caught up to California League pitching.
Witness this latest glut of Nuts runs, including Modesto's 12-6 victory over Bakersfield on Friday night at John Thurman Field. In their three-game sweep of the sliding Blaze, the Nuts collected 26 runs on 35 hits.
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In April and May, there were several weeks that didn't produce such numbers.
"Everybody has been talking about how the ball starts flying here and the bats start coming alive in July and August," designated hitter Victor Ferrante said. "Were all swinging the bats pretty well. Some of us, like myself, haven't been doing that well lately, so hopefully, tonight was the beginning of me."
Anthony Jackson and Michael Paulk had three hits each for the Nuts, whose three-game streak of 10 or more hits is their longest at home this season.
Ferrante got the Nuts jump-started, coming up with the bases loaded and two out against Blaze starter Evan Reed (5-5). Ferrante worked the count full, then got a fastball fat enough to have qualified as an Internet order.
"It was a belt-high fastball right over the middle of the plate, and I hit it the way I wanted to," Ferrante said.
By the time the ball landed, probably 430 feet from home plate, Modesto had an early 4-0 lead for the third time in the series.
This time, the Nuts didn't stop putting on the pressure, following the four-run first with a five-run second to take a 9-1 lead.
Travis Becktel had an RBI triple and scored on Jackson's single, then Paulk drove in a run with a double, Michael McKenry added a sacrifice fly, and Ferrante delivered a two-out RBI single to complete Modesto's fastest start to a game this season.
"I would venture to say that we are hitting at a higher average this year than we were last year at this time," Nuts manager Jerry Weinstein said. "We're probably not scoring as many runs, but this team doesn't have the speed of last year, not the power. But this team has made some great adjustments, and it's not by mistake."
Simon Ferrer (5-9) was the beneficiary. He allowed six runs (five earned) over five innings but also added a season-high six strikeouts as his knuckleball frequently appeared unhittable. Chris Malone worked four scoreless innings in relief to extend his recent success and earn his second save.
The sweep means the Nuts have won eight of nine and improved to 13-4 in July to grab a three-game lead over Visalia atop the North Division second-half standings.
That lead will be tested starting tonight, when Modesto opens a three-game series at Municipal Stadium in San Jose, where the Nuts are winless in eight games this season.
"We can hope to not try to do too much in San Jose," Ferrante said. "Perhaps we can get a couple big innings early in the game and hold them down. If we play them like we've been playing everybody else lately, we should do OK."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.