San Jose sweeps Modesto Nuts

bvanderbeek@modbee.comMay 4, 2013 

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate textBrian VanderBeek
    Title: Staff writer
    Coverage areas: Sports, including preps, colleges and the Modesto Nuts
    Bio: Brian VanderBeek joined The Bee in 1996 after previously working at The Home News-Tribune and The Star-Ledger in New Jersey, the (Dover) Delaware State News and the Hanford Sentinel. He is a graduate of Ripon High, Modesto Junior College and holds a degree in journalism from Fresno State.
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    On Twitter: @modestobeek
    E-mail: bvanderbeek@modbee.com

The swagger, and some of the confidence, is gone.

The Modesto Nuts arrived in town four weeks ago with shiny new South Atlantic League championship rings and a bounce in their collective step, ready to do some business in the California League.

But after the San Jose Giants completed a three-game sweep with a 5-3 victory Sunday at John Thurman Field, it was an emotionally injured bunch of Nuts that trudged back into the clubhouse.

Yes, this is a defeated team right now.

In the top of the ninth inning, with the Nuts trailing by only two runs, a member of the front office staff came into the press box with the information that there would be a players-only meeting following the game, which might restrict clubhouse access for a few minutes.

When the meeting was called went unexplained. Was it prior to the game, or when the Nuts trailed 5-0 in the sixth, or in the middle of the rally that fell short?

And what was it exactly that they thought would be accomplished by a team meeting?

There is only one thing missing from this team right now, and that's hitting. The pitching has been good and the defense solid. But offense is in short supply overall and supremely lacking when Modesto manages to get runners on base.

And since there's nothing about hitting that can be solved in a clubhouse meeting, the Nuts' field staff called off the pow-wow.

"Talk is cheap, especially when its obvious what's not getting done," said Nuts manager Lenn Sakata. "The depth of pitching in this league has been very good, which makes this an advanced stage of baseball for some of these guys. They have to see this level of pitching over and over before they can adjust to it.

"But at some point the page has to be turned and the results have to be exhibited. It's not from lack of work or the lack of trying, it's just the lack of execution. There's an internal source within each individual player, and that source has to get tired of failing and figure out what it is that has to be done not to fail."

The single glaring team-wide failure right now is the inability to produce with runners in scoring position.

Modesto went 1-for-14 in such situations on Sunday, and in the three-game series were 4-for-33.

Extend those numbers back to opening night and the Nuts are 40-for-228 when a hit would be likely to produce a run, a woeful .175 average.

With those kinds of numbers it's amazing Modesto is only six games below .500 at 9-15.

"The guys still believe," Sakata said. "The failure hasn't become cancerous. But these guys haven't failed before in this prolonged manner. It's going to happen in every career, but this is a rude awakening for some of these guys.

"You get into things like this and you don't know how it happened. You don't get breaks. Calls don't go your way and you get bad bounces."

San Jose, meanwhile, isn't burdened by such mental weight. The Giants (18-6) again flexed muscle, but this time against a pitcher not used to giving up the long ball.

Modesto starter Dan Winkler (2-1) had not allowed an extra base hit through his first four starts, but was dinged for six on Sunday, including solo homers from Devin Harris, Jeff Arnold and Mac Williamson. Harris has six homers in six games against the Nuts this week and has cleared the fence in five straight games.

Modesto broke through for single runs in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings. Harold Riggins drove in two with an RBI single and a ground ball, while the other run scored on a wild pitch.

But with the tying runs on base in the ninth, the Nuts finished off a lost weekend with a double play ground ball, then packed their bags to start looking ahead to better times.

"Some guys looked better today," Sakata said. "I saw more aggression at the plate until we got into scoring situations, and all of that already has been talked about.

"They understand what's at stake, but they just have to keep pushing and get the job done."

Brian VanderBeek can be reached at (209) 578-2150 or follow him on Twitter, @modestobeek

Online: Nuts celebrating at the gate; Arenado celebrating in the big leagues. Read Brian VanderBeek's blog at modbee.com/blogs.

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