Modesto, Calif. -- The Modesto Nuts' second half of California League play started more than a week ago, and a fresh look at the North Division standings has the club at 4-8 and — again — tied for last place with Stockton, an early parallel to the fate they experience in the first half.
Bakersfield has been the club's bugaboo of late, with the Blaze sweeping a four-game series at John Thurman Field this weekend. The last seven days, in detail:
|June 28||vs||Stockton||W, 10-4||July 5||@||San Jose||7:30 pm|
|June 29||vs||Stockton||W, 5-0||July 6||@||San Jose||8:00 pm|
|June 30||vs||Bakersfield||L, 2-6||July 7||@||San Jose||8:00 pm|
|July 1||vs||Bakersfield||L, 7-16||July 8||vs||Lake Elsinore||8:05 pm|
|July 2||vs||Bakersfield||L, 3-5 (15)||July 9||vs||Lake Elsinore||8:05 pm|
|July 3||vs||Bakersfield||L, 1-10||July 10||vs||Lake Elsinore||7:05 pm|
|July 4||@||San Jose||L, 1-2||July 11||vs||Lake Elsinore||8:05 pm|
As we've been doing every week, here's a deeper look at what's happening with the Nuts, including a recent promotion, a starter finding his spot in the rotation, and a possible coming call-up over the next few weeks.
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Welcome to High-A, Jack Wynkoop
The Rockies' sixth round draft pick last summer, left-handed pitcher Jack Wynkoop has already pitched his way out of Low-A Asheville and on to Modesto when he was promoted at the All-Star break. He made his first start for the Nuts in Bakersfield on June 26, lasting five innings and allowing four runs on four hits and a walk with three strikeouts. Then, on July 2, he threw 5.2 innings against Bakersfield, again, allowing three runs on six hits and no walks with nine strikeouts.
Here's video of the lefty's first High-A start from June 26:
With a four-pitch mix (fastball, slider, curve, changeup), and fastball velocities that sit 83-87 mph, Wynkoop isn't overpowering, but he knows how to pitch for his age and level. He walked all of seven batters in 93 innings pitched in Asheville before his promotion, and has allowed just one free pass through nearly 11 innings thus far during his time in Modesto.
"I’m trying to mix pitches down in the zone to get early contact, and maybe a little bit weaker contact," he said before his first start against Bakersfield last week. "I’m just trying to be efficient in what I’m doing, and stay down in the zone and get ground balls."
Though he may be just two starts into his California League stint, Wynkoop has already pretty clearly figured out what it's going to take to keep hitters off balance here, and considering he has those four pitches, including two breaking balls, with which to work, he has some margin of error with which to work.
"You can tell it’s a higher level of baseball, and I’m just trying to go out there and build upon and keep doing what I was doing in Asheville," he said. "Make pitches and try not to make mistakes, get ground balls and try to give my team a chance to win."
Wynkoop is forthright about his stuff, knowing he can't overpower hitters when he rarely touches 90 mph ("I’m trying to use what I’ve got, get myself in good counts, and try to get good, early outs," he admitted), but coming from a hitters' park in Asheville and now coming to a hitters' league on the west coast, the University of South Carolina product isn't shying away from the challenges of pitching in those environments.
"It's an attitude that every pitcher in our organization has to have, obviously with the goal of pitching at Coors Field in mind," Wynkoop said, referring to the desire to compete in extreme hitters' environments. "You have to be aggressive with your stuff, pitch down in the zone, and try to get ground balls. [Runs] will happen with these hitters and in these parks, but you can only control what you can control."
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Parker French finds his footing in Modesto
Wednesday night featured a feat from Modesto starter Parker French. Not only did he throw his first complete game shutout against the Stockton Ports, he did so on 98 pitches, squeaking in under the line for a Maddux.
When asked how he feels to accomplish the feat, French said, "whenever you’re in the same sentence as Greg Maddux it’s an honor. He’s someone that I’ve looked up to and is the epitome of a pitcher."
French said that he felt his stuff was good in the bullpen and took that to the game.
"All my pitches were working, especially my changeup and sinker," French said.
Facing a powerful Stockton lineup, French said that he just tried to change speeds a lot.
"The changeup was a big pitch for me," French said. "Trying to keep them off balance was really important because they’re really aggressive, especially on the fastball and we were trying to disrupt their timing."
On a night where French only allowed four hits, no walks, and struck out nine, he lowered his season ERA to 2.77. French has not allowed a run since his last start before the All-Star break on Jun. 18. If you’re looking for his last earned run allowed, that would be June 13.
In the second half, French said he’s trying not to lose focus.
"It’s just constant development, no matter what half we are in," French said. "Just being able to locate the fastball to both sides of the plate, being able to locate offspeed pitches and throw them for strikes when you need to. That’s pretty much just pitching in general, pitching 101. Just continue to work on that and pound those things in my head."
And when you ask him to compare how he feels so far in the second half from how he did in the first half, he said consistency is a key factor.
"Going out there and knowing what my stuff is going to do and how it’s going to move, which is a good thing," French said. "I feel like I’m hitting stride right now."
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Brian Mundell makes his case
First baseman Brian Mundell isn't in Modesto, but considering he's slashing .354/.410/.538 over 80 games (325 at-bats) in Low-A Asheville, he's pushing hard for a call-up. With 40 doubles, six home runs, and 30 walks against 48 strikeouts in that span, there isn't much left for the Rockies' 2015 seventh rounder to prove with the Tourists. When I asked Wynkoop which Asheville players (besides the obvious, Brendan Rodgers and Peter Lambert) one should take special note of this summer, he immediately named Mundell.
"The year that Brian Mundell is having there is unreal," Wynkoop said of the 2016 South Atlantic League All-Star first baseman. "He’s getting a lot of credit, and that’s credit that he deserves. The way that he goes about playing hard day in and day out and the way that he approaches hitting and defense is really impressive. It was a treat to play with him for the first half."
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OMAR CARRIZALES, OF
Omar Carrizales has proven streaky in the short run, going through one- and two-week feast and famine periods here and there, but taken altogether, he's done one thing this summer: hit he ball. Slashing .303/.350/.430 has him among the Cal League's leaders in batting, and his plus speed gives him options both with how to get on base, and what to do once there (he's swiped ten bases this summer).
FORREST WALL, 2B
Forrest Wall is 12-for-37 (.324) over his last ten games, and quietly has pulled himself up out of a slumping, slow first half. Altogether, he's now slashing .266/.333/.375 — a far cry from expectations after two superb years to open his career, but considering his average was in the .230s or below for much of the first half this summer, that's an achievement of which to be proud. Another six weeks of good at-bats with his simple, renewed approach will leave him with pretty decent overall numbers for Modesto and, in turn, a likely Double-A start next summer.
HELMIS RODRIGUEZ, LHP
Helmis Rodriguez has quietly been putting in very good work as the Nuts' long man, pitching in 18 games (one start) and allowing just 44 hits and 16 more walks in more than 53 innings for a 3.88 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and .223 opponents' batting average. He'd been a starter through his minor league career up until this point, and though it seems the Rockies like him better in the bullpen now in favor of Carlos Polanco and others in the rotation, Helmis has shown he can go three, four, and five innings in an outing, and he has enough stuff to keep hitters off balance two times through the order.
TYLER MATZEK, LHP
After dominating Cal League hitters for a solid few weeks, Tyler Matzek's last few outings have been up and down, twice walking two batters in an inning of relief work over his last four appearances (including the one on video here in which he struggled to command his fastball and eventually had to work off his breaking ball to throw strike one). Altogether, the process continues for Matzek in Modesto; in 19 games (14 innings), he's allowed 13 hits and 11 walks (1.71 WHIP) while striking out 21 batters. Not there yet, but he's certainly improving immensely from where he was at the start of the summer.
CARLOS POLANCO, RHP
Armed with a nearly triple-digit fastball, Carlos Polanco had been chuggin' along in the Nuts' rotation this year until he hit the skids in his last two starts, failing to get out of the first inning in both, while walking eight batters and hitting three more in the process. We'll see how long he's slated to stay in the rotation (Rodriguez would be the likely replacement, barring a roster move/promotion), but for now, here's a video of his mechanics from one of those aborted starts last week in Bakersfield.
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