Frustration mounts as Modesto Nuts' offense continues to struggle

bvanderbeek@modbee.comMay 20, 2013 

— Seated and still in uniform 10 minutes after the final pitch, many of the Modesto Nuts stared blankly into the back of their lockers, as if there were answers in the wood grain.

It was yet another game and another loss doomed by lack of offense, as Modesto collected only three hits in a 5-2 loss to Visalia, and the players are beginning to wear the frustration on their sleeves.

There was weirdness in the stands — a delay on the field after a fan was hit by a foul ball and two sections cleared after another foul ball shattered the lens of a stadium light.

But on the field there was a maddening sameness in the Nuts' performance right up until the final out.

Yes, once again the Nuts loaded the bases with less than two out — this time in the ninth inning — and once again they left all runners aboard.

It was the third time in the first two games of this series Modesto had come up empty in such a situation, and it's happened so often through the season's first 44 games that it's fruitless to count.

"Having to go through this is part of baseball and what you do about it is how you grow," said manager Lenn Sakata. "But we're basically spinning our wheels. We're making a lot of stupid mistakes and defensive mistakes, and we're not outhitting those mistakes."

The Rawhide scored three runs in the first after the game started on an error, and starter Keith Hessler, a 24-year-old lefty from Coastal Carolina University, took a no-hitter into the seventh.

The action in the stands was another matter.

In the third inning, a checked-swing line drive off the bat of a Visalia player screamed into the grandstand behind the first-base dugout, where it hit a woman in the mouth or jaw.

According to emergency Red Cross first-aid workers, who were on the scene within 15 seconds, the woman never lost consciousness, but was bleeding and vomiting and was unable to move her mouth.

The game was delayed for seven minutes as the woman was treated in the stands. She walked with assistance down the steps to a waiting collapsible gurney and was taken to a local hospital by ambulance.

Two innings later, a foul ball at the same angle from home plate but about 60 feet higher hit the lens of a stadium light, sending a shower of glass unto the people below. As a stadium crew cleaned the glass, two sections of field level seating had to be evacuated for fear that more glass could fall from the damaged light. No one appeared to be hurt by the falling glass.

Hessler (3-1) carried a no-no and a five-run lead into the seventh, when he hit Tyler Massey ahead of Taylor Featherston's double into the right field corner.

One out later, Ryan Casteel lined a single into right field to score two runs and break two streaks. They were Modesto's first runs in 16 innings, while Casteel snapped a personal 0-for-15 slide at the plate.

Another remarkable streak, this one by Nuts starter Dan Winkler, was snapped in the game's opening moments.

Winkler (5-2) had pitched perfect first innings in each of his previous four starts, but that achievement went by the wayside when David Nick's soft line drive behind first base was dropped for an error by Harold Riggins.

The Rawhide, who started the evening a game behind San Jose for first place in the North Division, jumped on the opportunity.

A single and two walks forced in a run, then Tom Belsa's ground ball single past Riggins scored two runs to give Visalia a 3-0 lead.

Winkler would allow only one more baserunner the rest of his five-inning stint — a third-inning home run by third baseman Jake Lamb.

The Nuts tried to make some noise in the ninth against Rawhide closer Jake Barrett, who walked Massey with one out ahead of Featherston's single to left, then walked Riggins to load the bases.

Two infield popups later, the Nuts retreated to the clubhouse — frustrated again.

"We're all in fighting mode," Sakata said. "They aren't quitting. They have to figure out how to catch-up to this level of competition and the lack of offense continues to be what is defeating us."

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

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