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Nuts pitching overpowers Ports in series sweep
Mariners’ #20 ranked prospect Michael Morales throws a bullpen session at John Thurman Field in Modesto during his off day on Friday. He pitched twice in the six-game series sweep against the Stockton Ports (CHRISTOPHER CORREA/The Journal).

Through the first month of the Single-A season, the Modesto Nuts had found themselves with the second-worst team ERA in the California League. Last week against the Stockton Ports, the Single-A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics, they seemed to have turned a corner.

The Nuts starting rotation was led by Michael Morales, the Mariners’ third-round pick in the 2021 draft and the #20 ranked prospect in the Seattle farm system. He appeared twice in the series.

Morales was on the bump for the first game last Tuesday, surrendering two runs on seven hits while striking out six in five strong innings, good enough to earn the win in a lopsided 10-2 Modesto victory. He also had the nod for the series finale on Sunday, earning a no-decision after tossing 5 1/3 innings of two-hit, no-run ball. He left the game with a 1-0 lead, which was blown in the eighth innings before catcher Andrew Miller sent everyone home with a walk off, RBI single for a 3-2 win.

The 20-year-old now has a 2-0 record on the year, leading all starters with a 1.33 ERA. He is also third on the team with 25 strikeouts.

Leading the team in strikeouts is Brandon Schaeffer with 32. A large chunk of those came in Wednesday’s 2-1 win. He t23-year-old southpaw out of North Carolina struck out 10 batters, giving up the one run off of four hits. He was in line for the loss until a game-tying RBI double by infielder Josh Hood and a walk off sacrifice fly by catcher Tatem Levins ended things.

Sandwiched between Morales and Schaeffer in the strikeout category is Shaddon Peavyhouse, who also happens to lead the team in wins with his 3-1 record. With six strikeouts on Thursday, his season total rose to 28.

First-year manager Zach Vinvej explained that he and pitching coach Jake Witt have emphasized aggressiveness to their hurlers.

“It’s all about getting ahead. That was a big, big thing for us. Getting ahead of guys, just attacking guys and just trusting that their stuff is good enough and not worrying about placing it in particular areas was huge for us,” Vincej said.  We want them to just throw their pitches with some conviction and just leave the cards where they live. They've done a good job of that. There's obviously room for improvement as we go, but as of the last week or so, it's been great.”

One pitcher who did not contribute to the week’s masterful pitching was reliever Jarod Bayless, and it was all for good reason. Last weekend, Bayless marked the first callup for the Nuts, as the 26-year-old Texas native joined the Tacoma Rainiers in Triple-A.

Bayless was a 33rd round pick by the Mariners in 2019, and his goal is to be the first 33rd rounder to make it to Major League Baseball.

“A lot of people would have given up by now,” Bayless admitted during last month’s media day. “But hey, I love this game and I feel good. I think it’ll be a good year.”

In five games with Modesto, he racked up 10 strikeouts in just 5 1/3 innings, although one outing against the Ports in the opening days of the season in which he gave up three runs inflated his ERA to 8.44.

“Bayless deserves it,” Vincej said. He has pitched really well out of the pen for us. He's thrown a lot of strikes and he has competed. And you know, when you do those things on a consistent basis, it gets noticed, especially when there's a spot that opens up. In baseball, there's a lot of injuries and a lot of things can happen. It puts you in a good position to fill in those spots. So, Bayless has been great. He's a competitor, and I'm sure he's going to be doing the same up there.”

The sweep catapulted the Nuts into first place in all of the California League with a 14-7 record. It’ll be a long while until local baseball fans are able to see the team, though, as they will not be home at John Thurman Field until May 16 when they take on the Fresno Grizzlies. They are currently in the middle of a six-game series against the San Jose Giants that will wrap up on Sunday. From there, will travel to Inland Empire to take on the 66ers, the affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels, from May 9-14.