The quality of Jayson Aquino's secondary pitches is evident to anyone who observes him in action. On Friday night in Modesto, he utilized a lively fastball to make them even better.
The Rockies' No. 17 prospect Aquino turned in his longest outing of the year, allowing four hits over seven scoreless innings, as Class A Advanced Modesto held off Bakersfield in a 2-1 win.
Aquino (3-6) had been much improved since a rough outing on June 11 at Bakersfield, where he surrendered nine earned runs over five innings, but he hadn't pitched past the sixth all season. All of that changed with an emphasis on using his primary offering.
"We did try to get Jayson to use his fastball and get some downhill angle on it," Nuts pitching coach Dave Burba said. "He already has a plus changeup and breaking ball, and he relies on them too much. Tonight, he did an excellent job of using his fastball. He struggled a little bit here and there with the angle, but he was able to come back and make quality pitches when he needed to make them. He got them sped up with his fastball and made some good off-speed pitches later in the game when he needed strikeouts."
Aquino pitched around doubles by Sebastian Elizalde in the second and David Vidal in the third to keep the Blaze off the scoreboard. Despite pitching with traffic on the basepaths in five of his seven innings, the 21-year-old left-hander prevented Bakersfield from doing any damage, thanks to a heavy diet of ground balls. Aquino recorded 10 outs on the ground against three in the air while striking out six to counter three walks.
"We actually should have had two double plays on two of those groundouts," Burba noted. "Unfortunately, we weren't able to execute them, but when he's throwing the ball with angle and keeping the ball down, he's going to produce a lot of ground balls. He did a great job of that tonight."
Aquino went seven innings for the first time since Aug. 21 in a South Atlantic League loss for Class A Asheville.
"He's starting to make the adjustments," Burba said. "He's starting to realize that it's important to use your fastball and locate it, not just throw it down the middle. Early in the year, he would have a slow start, wasn't really aggressive early in the game and then all of a sudden, he'd start getting hit around. That's when he'd turn up the dial.
"We kind of got him out of that mode and now we're really focusing on him staying down with angle with his fastball. He's starting to get the grasp of how important it is to use the fastball instead of throwing off-speed all the time. To me, that's the biggest adjustment."
The victory was the first for a Nuts starter since Matt Flemer beat High Desert on June 27. It also suggested a step in Aquino's continuing maturation process.
"It's definitely a breath of fresh air," Burba said. "Personally speaking as a pitching coach, you want all your kids to do well and make the adjustments and do what they do to succeed. When you see a kid execute what you've been trying to preach to him and see the success it brings, it's a very heartwarming feeling. You feel very happy for the kid. He gave us a chance to win a ballgame, which we haven't been doing too often."
The Nuts took the lead when Matt Wessinger doubled home Patrick Valaika in the second. They tacked on an insurance run in the fifth on Chris O'Dowd's RBI groundout.
The Blaze got within 2-1 on Elizalde's two-out double in the eighth, but Rayan Gonzalez struck out two and pitched around two hits in the ninth for his seventh save.
Bakersfield's Wandy Peralta (6-7) turned in a quality start but was saddled with the loss, allowing two runs on three hits and three walks while striking out five over six innings.