MODESTO — The High Desert Mavericks hate Modesto.
Playing their home games in the most homer-friendly ballpark in all of professional baseball, the Mavericks historically take a few games to adjust to spacious John Thurman Field.
So much for trends.
The Mavericks launched two massive home runs to right field to spoil the home debut of top pitching prospect Eddie Butler, while the Nuts went 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position to seal a 6-3 High Desert victory.
"The situation still comes up where we have runners at second and third or the bases are loaded and we get nothing done," said Nuts' manager Lenn Sakata. "That's an issue that has plagued us all year."
Modesto's home-diamond dominance of High Desert has been impressive. Over the last six seasons, the Nuts have won 24 of the 33 games played against the Mavericks at Thurman Field.
And the reason may be as simple as assuming many of the fly ball home runs High Desert blasts at its wind-blown, elevated launching pad in Adelanto are fly ball outs in Modesto.
But on Thursday, even with the prevailing wind that typically knocks-down balls hit to right field, the Mavericks beat the elements and the ballpark, sending Butler (0-1) to the defeat.
Designated hitter Kevin Rivers hit a soaring drive to right-center in the fourth inning that went for a solo homer and broke a 2-2 tie, and Ji-Man Choi followed in the fifth with a solo shot more toward center but equally impressive.
Butler, the 46th overall pick of the 2012 draft, had allowed two home runs total in nine starts in low-A Asheville, relying on a sinking fastball that routinely hits 98 mph on the gun.
But Butler left a few pitches up in the zone against the Mavs, and it showed in his final line. He lasted 4º innings, giving up five runs on seven hits.
He walked three, struck out four and worked into deep counts, throwing 94 pitches.
"His control has been erratic and that's a concern right now," Sakata said. "This is a league where you have to get your secondary pitches over or you're in trouble.
"In that other league you probably could get away with just throwing fastballs because a lot of those kids haven't seen a fastball like his. But this league challenges you to become a better pitcher and he'll have to develop to have success."
Modesto was staked to a 2-0 lead in the first when High Desert starter Jordan Pires (4-3) a Stanford product, tied a California League record by hitting three batters.
One was with the bases loaded to force-in a run, and a second run scored when Trevor Story's two-out ground ball to first base was booted. In all, the Nuts went hitless in four at-bats with runners in scoring position in the inning.
The Mavericks scored two in the third, one in the fourth and two more in the fifth to chase Butler.
The Nuts scratched back in the sixth when Story singled and eventually scored on a two-out RBI single by David Kandilas, but it turned out to be Modesto's lone success in scoring situations.
That continuing failure was most evident in the seventh, when trailing only 5-3 at the time the Nuts loaded the bases with one out, only to be turned away when Story fanned and Will Swanner grounded out.
"Until we start coming through in those situations it's going to be a lot of teeth-gnashing," Sakata said.