Tim Smalling has gotten hot at the right time for the Class A Advanced Nuts.
Smalling smacked a two-RBI double as Modesto scored five runs in the first inning en route to a 6-2 win over Bakersfield on Wednesday. The Game 5 victory enabled the Nuts to advance to the California League Finals.
A 15th-round pick by the Rockies in 2011, Smalling's two-bagger gave the Nuts a 3-0 lead. He scored two batters later on Delta Cleary's double play to cap the inning.
"We loaded them up with no one out. Jared Clark worked the walk and they brought in a new pitcher [Brooks Pinckard]," Smalling said. "He got ahead 0-2. He made some good pitches, I fouled them off, I think it was a 10-pitch at-bat. He left it over the plate and I put a good swing on it.
"It was huge getting ahead early. It takes the pressure of the pitcher and helps him relax a little bit."
Smalling leads the California League with eight RBIs in the playoffs and is batting .333 for Modesto. Four of his nine postseason hits have gone for extra bases and he is one off team leader Rafael Ortega's pace with with six runs scored.
"I don't know, just trying to get locked in at the right time," the North Carolina native said. "I've been working with our hitting coach, Jonathan Stone, on staying short and staying to the middle of the field."
Tyler Matzek, the Rockies' No. 4 prospect, allowed a run on three hits while striking out six over 5 2/3 innings for Modesto. It was his second win of the playoffs, both coming in deciding games for the Nuts.
"He was great tonight," Smalling said. "He was throwing all his pitches for strikes and reaching back when he needed it. He had his fastball and his slider when he needed it."
Modesto is seeking its first California League title since 2004 and will host Lancaster in Game 1 on Thursday. Smalling knows the club still has some work ahead of them, which made Wednesday's celebration a minor one.
"We're gonna enjoy this win for a little bit, but we're gonna get focused for Lancaster. They're playing well in the playoffs," Smalling said. "We're going to go in and battle for Game 1."
Juan Crousset was 3-for-4 with a double and an RBI while Ortega had two hits and scored once for the Nuts.
Travis Mattair slugged a solo homer for the Blaze.