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Nuts drop first two of opening homestand, walk-off Thursday to stay above .500
Bill Knight Nuts
Mariners prospect and Modesto Nuts centerfielder Bill Knight is swinging a hot bat to open the season, having hit .417 with 10 hits, one home run, two walks, eight RBI and five runs scored through the team’s first six games, including a walk off single in Thursday’s 5-4 win over the San Jose Giants.

It’s been mixed bag of emotions through Thursday night for the Modesto Nuts’ first homestand of the 2023 season. Opening their season series against the San Jose Giants, the Seattle Mariners’ Single-A affiliate saw their undefeated 3-0 start be spoiled as the Giants took the first two games of this week’s six game series at John Thurman Field, which will be completed on Sunday afternoon.

Tuesday’s opening night festivities were kicked off by California Sen. Marie Alvarado-Gil, who represents Stanislaus County. Out of the 2,054 fans in attendance, the first 500 were also able to take home a unique piece of baseball memorabilia, an Ichiro Suzuki bobblehead commemorating his final game in 2019.

“Playing at your own stadium is always exciting, especially your first game,” said first-year manager Zach Vincej. “Having the ceremony and everything and having the guys all fired up hearing their walkout music blaring… First opening game is always exciting.”

In terms of the game itself, the opener saw the Giants, who were 1-2 coming into town, keep the Nuts at bay for an entire nine innings in a 6-2 win, never relinquishing a lead. San Francisco’s Single-A affiliate jumped out ahead 2-0 after RBI knocks by Edison Mora and Zach Morgan in the second and third innings, respectively. After Mariners 2022 10th round pick Bill Knight doubled in two runs in fourth inning, the Nuts came to heads with a familiar foe – errors.

Coming into Tuesday, the Nuts had compiled seven errors throughout their three-game sweep of the Stockton Ports earlier in the week. A pair of dropped flyouts in the eighth inning led to three runs and a deficit that was ultimately too much to climb back from. Matters weren’t made any easier as the Nuts left nine runners on base after working 10 walks on the night.

A similar story unfolded during Wednesday night’s 7-5 loss. Despite two perfect innings by starter and 2022 ninth round pick Tyler Gough, the righty’s efforts weren’t enough as two more errors were committed, one being a fielding error by first baseman Gabe Moncada with the bases loaded in the seventh inning, allowing all three baserunners come in to score.

“Yeah, the errors, that’s a huge emphasis for me,” Vincej said. “It’s going to happen. These guys are young and they’re amped up, especially the first couple games of the season, so I feel that there’s a bit of amped up energy and we need to channel that to a more controlled state. The more reps we get, the more practice we get, over time it’ll get better and better, so I’m not too worried about it.”

Moncada made up for his costly mistake during Thursday’s game, in which he blasted a solo shot in the seventh inning to tie things up at four runs apiece. Knight would later single home Curtis Washington Jr. in the bottom of the ninth to walk off the Giants 5-4 and put an end to Modesto’s two game skid.

“I’ve just been hunting the heater,” Knight said. “I’m just trying to get the job done and trying to get the ball in play and help the team.”

Defensively, the Nuts recorded zero errors in the victory, with Colin Davis also throwing out a pair of runners at the plate from his position in right field.

Though Vincej has patiently waited for his team’s defense and pitching to come along, an electric offense is something that the Nuts have had since the start of the year.

Through the first six games, Moncada has slashed .313/.429/.750/1.179 with five hits, two home runs, four walks, six RBI and five runs scored. Meanwhile, there are four others who have hit over .400 to start the year. Knight has slashed .417/.500/1.125 with 10 hits, one home run, two walks, eight RBI and five runs scored. Mariners #3 ranked prospect Cole Young is slashing .458/.581/1.289 with 11 hits, seven walks, four RBI and six runs scored, who hits leadoff for the club directly ahead of  #7 prospect Gabriel Gonzalez, who has slashed.400/.484/1.004 with 10 hits, five walks, three RBI and four runs scored himself.

“It’s nice to hit in front of those guys, and obviously I just try to get on base for them,” Young said.

With the Nuts dropping the first half of the series 1-2, they entered Friday night’s game with a 4-2 record, sitting in second place in the California League standings behind the 5-0 Lake Elsinore Storm, the Single-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres. Looking further ahead, first pitch for Saturday’s game is scheduled for 6:05 p.m., while the series finale against San Jose on Sunday is expected to get underway at 2:05 p.n.