MODESTO — The Modesto Nuts' hope for a break-even first half is gone, but that in no way means the players still don't have goals to chase.
A primary illustration of this notion is Nuts' left-fielder Brian Humphries.
He drove in both runs in Modesto's 3-2 loss to Bakersfield on Thursday night, and suddenly is third in the California League in hitting at .320.
The success didn't come out of nowhere, it came out of hard work and constant adjusting, which is what baseball at the High-A level and above is all about.
Humphries, who extended his hitting streak to 11 games with his two-run single in the eighth inning, is not the only Nut making adjustments. Far from it. But he's the team's top offensive success story through the first 67 games of the season.
"At the beginning of the year we all struggled to hit a little bit, but as the year's gone on we've been able to adjust a lot quicker, especially within games instead of having to wait several games to figure out what we were doing wrong," Humphries said.
"By making the adjustments more quickly, the troubles aren't snowballing anymore from several at-bats to several games."
Humphries, a 14th-round pick of Colorado in the 2011 draft out of Pepperdine University, has hit well at each level of the minors, but is making some changes that allow him to drive the ball more, instead of relying on contact and speed.
"I give this kid credit because he bought into the stuff I've asked him to change," said Nuts manager Lenn Sakata. "He's a highlight for me in coaching because he's a guy who responds, adjusts and then has had success.
"He was kind of a slap-bunt guy, but he really doesn't have the speed to play like that. He's a big guy and needed to play like that instead."
Humphries' two-run single came with one out in the eighth inning on a 2-2 fastball that came inside. Humphries had the strength to muscle the ball off the fists, blooping a single into center to score Harold Riggins and Niko Gallego.
The Nuts went on to move the possible tying and winning runs into scoring position in the ninth before Bakersfield's bullpen was able to close out the win.
Modesto was stifled through seven innings by Blaze starter Shane Dyer (1-0), recently signed by Cincinnati after his release from the Tampa Bay organization. Dyer, 25, had pitched as high as Triple-A in the Rays' system, and his mound savvy showed.
Through seven innings he allowed only four hits, with only five balls reaching the outfield, and needed only 75 pitches to take a 3-0 lead into the eighth.
That's when Riggins lined a one-out single for his second hit of the game and Gallego followed with a double into the left field corner. Humphries' hit came off reliever Jimmy Walczak, who stayed in to get the save.
Bakersfield was in position to have more than a three-run lead against Nuts' starter Ben Alsup (3-8), who worked his way around near-constant trouble.
The Blaze scored twice in the first on two hits, an error and a walk, then added another run in the fourth on a hit, two two-out walks and a hit batsman.
Bakersfield stranded eight runners through the first four innings, but Alsup was able to complete seven innings.