MODESTO — There's not much more Chris Jensen can do to earn a win for the Modesto Nuts.
He's allowed as many as four runs once in his seven starts, and twice he's worked seven innings and left with a lead.
The second solid seven-inning outing came Tuesday night, when the University of San Diego product stifled the Stockton Ports on one run and three hits, leaving with a lead.
But these Nuts have found more creative ways to lose games than any team in recent memory, and used that dubious talent to fall 4-2 to the Ports.
The loss broke the Nuts' season-long four-game winning streak, but one streak remains. Heading into a rare 3:30 first pitch today, Modesto's starters have put together a string of five quality starts.
"We're feeling more comfortable, and I know I'm getting into the once-every-five-days routine," Jensen said. "Early in the season we had a few hitches, but we've figured those out and now we're able to go deeper into games. We all want to go as far as we can."
Jensen left with a 2-1 lead, then watched his teammates absorb a double gut-punch in the eighth.
With two outs and no one aboard, reliever Geoff Parker gave up a single and a walk and was replaced by Leuris Gomez, who came in to face Antonio Lamas.
On a 2-2 count Lamas stayed alive by fouling a fastball straight back of the unprotected right forearm of catcher Will Swanner, who immediately dropped to his knees in pain.
Swanner suffered only a bruise but came out of the game following a five-minute delay and was replaced behind the plate by Drew Beuerlein.
On the very next pitch, Lamas drilled a two-run double into the left field corner.
"The lull took us out of a rhythm and I'm pretty sure Swanner wouldn't have let Gomez throw that pitch," said Nuts' manager Lenn Sakata. "I think Gomez talked Beuerlein into throwing the inside fastball. It wasn't a good pitch and that was the game."
It turned out to be the difference because of another mistake in the bottom of the inning. Ryan Casteel and Harold Riggins both singled, and Trevor Story placed a perfect sacrifice bunt toward third base.
Pitcher Jonathan Joseph fielded the bunt, but his rushed throw was low and skipped past first base.
Riggins, thinking the ball went down the line, took a few steps toward third. But second baseman Lamas backed up the play and threw to shortstop Addison Russell, who tagged Riggins for the first out.
Two strikeouts later, the Nuts' chance to rally was over.
"That eighth inning will leave a bad taste in your mouth," Sakata said. "I would have liked to have seen what was going to happen without the bad baserunning. That was a real good bunt, and when that ball went past first base, I thought we were set up."
Dusty Robinson touched Gomez for a solo homer in the ninth, but Modesto's fate had been sealed an inning earlier.
So despite outhitting Stockton 11-6 and getting another superb starting pitching performance, the Nuts left John Thurman Field with yet another tough loss.
And Jensen, who has struck out 38 against seven walks, and who is limiting opposing hitters to a .224 batting average, walked away still looking for his first California League win.
"It's just a part of baseball," Jensen said. "I don't need the wins in front of my name. I'm just out there to help the team win.
"The hitters are starting to hit better, and the team overall is coming around."