MODESTO — Last in hitting, last in scoring, first in the hearts of Modesto fans.
Yes, thats your 2013 Modesto Nuts, and its amazing that they entered this weekend home set against San Jose with a 9-12 record with an offense this poor:
Through 21 games, Modesto is last in the California League with a .232 team batting average, last with 73 runs, last with 168 hits, last with 10 homers, last in slugging (.343,) and last in on-base percentage (a staggeringly poor .293.)
They do lead the league in one key offensive category - striking out. With 242 whiffs, the Nuts are carrying their bats back to the dugout an average of 11.5 times per game.
Are the players pressing? Theres no doubt about it. Some have been pressing from opening night on. But according to manager Lenn Sakata, there have been few signs so far of panic. And when he sees players consistently trying too hard, he gives them a mental night off.
In Fridays series opener against San Jose, neither Trevor Story (.147-1-4) nor Harold Riggins (.235-1-6) were in the starting lineup.
Sakata had a lot to say about the state of the Modesto bats prior to the game, and here it is:.
Things are bound to improve because players dont hit like this the whole year if theyre any good, and this team has talent. Being positive is the hardest thing to do at this point, but its all we can do. Having seen this before - maybe not in as drastic a scenario as this - I know that it is what it is.
The kids are starting to work on stuff and I see some improvement there, so its just a matter of time before the cage work carries over onto the field and the scoreboard starts working.
I dont know what the magic pill is. Nobody does. The biggest problem is that its not just one or two guys. Its feeding itself. I know for a fact that when the guy in front of you is having a bad day that youre standing there thinking the pitcher has better stuff than he actually has. Its hard when you have a whole inning where theres no contact made. The next guy coming up is thinking the guy out there must be nasty.
The pitching does have to be factored in. Unless youve watched this league for several years you wont understand that the pitching in this league is better this year. I dont think Ive ever seen before where a guy throws two straight fastballs in 3-2 counts that were fouled off, then freezes a batter with a hook. Thats major league stuff. Thats not A-ball pitching. All of the sudden these guys are seeing a changeup on 2-0, a hook on 3-1. In lower leagues, if a pitcher misses with his fastball, youre going to see another fastball.
Its the learning curve, and the guys who figure it out get to move up while the guys who dont repeat the level. Maybe next year the pitching isnt as good and confidence starts to rise.
From a coaching standpoint, you consistently work at it and you strive to get the kids to work on the stuff that will help them. You dont try to make wholesale changes every day and you dont add pressure by saying this is a much-do situation. The players already are putting enough pressure on themselves and a lot of them are trying too hard.
The atmosphere in the clubhouse is still positive. I understand what theyre going through because I played and I know things like this happen. Its a 140-game schedule and the ultimate goal is to develop and win and the two go hand-in-hand. Theyre playing to win, and were coaching to win, but its just not happening right now.