MODESTO, CA - The Modesto Nuts (72-66/33-35) scored a run in the bottom of the first inning and never looked back, adding on in the fifth, seventh, and eighth to beat the Visalia Rawhide (69-69/33-35), 6-2. Modesto scored four of their six runs off of Sam Lewis who, despite not having his best stuff, worked through seven solid innings.
Lewis (L, 1-3) struck out just four hitters and struggled to find his rhythm early in the game. Eric Filia, the second hitter of the game, hit a grounder to the right side on a hit and run that second baseman Seth Spivey would have been easily able to field if he weren't in motion towards second base. But the ball was far enough to his left, away from his momentum rushing to the bag to cover the throw, that the grounder found its way into right field for a base hit. From then on, the bounces didn't go the way of the Rawhide.
Lewis worked out of the jam in the first despite walking two more hitters and allowed just one run, but Robert Dugger was dominant for Modesto and kept the Visalia offense quiet. Dugger (W, 2-5) held Visalia scoreless while allowing two hits and striking out six over six innings. Dugger only sniffed trouble once, in the fifth inning, when the Rawhide had two runners on and two outs and Modesto leading 2-0. Jorge Flores hit a shot into the gap in right center that appeared to be ticketed for extra bases. But Luis Liberato came streaking out of center field and made a running catch at the warning track to end the threat.
Visalia finally did crack the scoreboard in the seventh inning when Henry Castillo reached on an error by reliever Bryan Bonnell when Bonnell was covering first on Castillo's grounder. With two outs in the inning, Spivey hit a deep drive to left that left fielder Joey Curletta missed while making an attempt at a running grab. Castillo scored from first and Spivey cruised into second with a standup double to cut the deficit to 2-1.
Liberato put the Nuts firmly in control in the bottom of the seventh with a two run homer to dead right. Modesto added two more in the eighth off Keegan Long on a two-run single by Donnie Walton up the middle with the infield drawn in to put the Nuts on top 6-1. Matt Jones hit a solo homer to right center in the ninth against Matt Festa, but the support came too late and in too small of an amount.
With San Jose's victory in Stockton, the Rawhide, Nuts, and Ports are all tied for first place in the Cal League North Division second half standings with two games remaining. Visalia can still earn a playoff berth by outplaying Stockton over the remaining two games or by tying Stockton in the final standings to force a play in game at Banner Island Ballpark. However, if there is a three-way tie between the Nuts, Ports, and Rawhide, the Cal League three-way tiebreaker rules would eliminate Visalia from playoff contention.
Visalia will continue their final series of the regular season tomorrow in Modesto. Visalia will send RHP Jose Almonte (11-9,3.36) to the bump against RHP Tyler Jackson (2-2, 4.15) for the Nuts. First pitch is at 6:05 PM and the Visalia radio broadcast will be available on Rawhidebaseball.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.