VISALIA — Having lost five of its past six games, the Rawhide turned it around in a big way on Tuesday. Visalia pitchers combined for 21 strikeouts, including 13 by starting pitcher Emilio Vargas, in a 6-4 victory over Modesto at Recreation Park.
Vargas pitched five innings and dispatched more than half of the 20 batters he faced via the punch-out. His season-high 13 strikeouts were also more than any other Visalia pitcher this season.
“Vargas was outstanding,” Visalia manager Joe Mather said. “Anytime you’re double-digit strikeouts to one walk that’s pretty darn good.”
Matt Brill and Junior Garcia combined to pitch three innings with four strikeouts. Brill allowed a two-run home run, but Tommy Eveld pitched a perfect ninth and earned his 10th save of the year.
Visalia (47-43/10-10) had a strikeout in every single inning and retired the side in order five times, including three times on strikeouts. The Rawhide actually came within one strikeout of the California League record set on May 20, 1964, between Salinas and Santa Barbara.
Vargas, who entered the day leading the California League with an ERA of 1.75, allowed two runs on three hits and walked one. He recorded his first eight outs on strikeouts and struck out the side in the second inning.
After his final strikeout to close out the fifth, Vargas paused on the field before letting out a small show of excitement and he flashed a huge smile as he made his way toward the dugout. He now leads the California League with 126 strikeouts.
“I thought his fastball was a little bit more electric than usual,” Mather said. “He’s got a good fastball, but tonight he was really aggressive with it. He’s a workhorse, he’s what you want from a starting pitcher.”
As great as the pitching was, Modesto (36-54/6-14) still took advantage of a few swings. The Nuts took a one-run lead on a Kyle Lewis double in the first. The Rawhide answered right back by loading the bases with no outs in the bottom of the inning.
After one run scored and with two outs, Visalia designated hitter Dominic Miroglio hit a two-run single just past the shortstop to score center fielder Jason Morozowski and catcher Renae Martinez.
“[Modesto pitcher Darren McCaughan has] given us problems all year, he’s had a lot of success in this league,” Miroglio said. “You really have to take advantage of the pitches he does leave in the heart of the plate … I was lucky enough to get one.”
Right fielder Ramon Hernandez then smoked a double into the gap to score Miroglio and complete a four-run first for the 4-1 advantage.
“We changed up our routine a little bit before the game with our hitting,” Miroglio said. “We did a little extra hitting on the field with the velo machine, and I think that helped guys be ready to hit in that first inning.”
Mather added that the team has recently had talks about hitting and approaches at the plate and was encouraged at seeing the players buying into it.
The Visalia bats struck again in the third after Miroglio, who finished 2-for-3 with two RBIs and two runs, and shortstop Camden Duzenack singled to put themselves on the corners. Second baseman Adam Walton then hit a two-run double to center field to make it 6-2.
“I was just looking to be aggressive on something over the plate and I was down 0-1,” Walton said. “I’m not even sure what I hit, but it was over the plate and I just put a good swing on it and fortunately it found a hole and scored a few runs for us.”
Trailing 6-2 in the seventh, Modesto looked to make it a game again. Gareth Morgan led off the inning with a single. After a strikeout, Manny Pazos drilled a two-run home run to make it a two-run game.
The Nuts then loaded the bases, but hit a harmless pitch to left field, which was handled by Mark Karaviotis to end the threat. Modesto was retired in order the last two innings.
Visalia entered the game one game behind Stockton for first place in the California League North and they keep pace with the win.
“Being one game back after losing five of the last six is a pretty good spot to be in,” Walton said. “We’re just going to take it day by day and see what happens.”