Good time for Nuts to take a break

Modesto finishes first half with loss

bvanderbeek@modbee.comJune 16, 2013 

The Modesto Nuts looked every bit like a team ready for a three-day break on Sunday, but before packing their bags the Nuts had a bit of historic business to address.

While dropping a lackluster 12-3 decision to the last-place Bakersfield Blaze at John Thurman Field, the Nuts gave up two homers to Juan Silverio while striking out six times.

That's not a lot compared to a lot of swing-and-miss efforts posted by Modesto this season, but it gives them 702 strikeouts through the season's first 70 games.

No California League team ever has averaged 10 strikeouts a game for an entire season. The record is 1,313 whiffs, set by the 1972 Stockton Ports in a year when the Modesto Reds claimed the league title.

Modesto finished the first half with a 32-38 record — their worst since becoming a Colorado affiliate and the lowest win total since the 2003 Modesto A's also went 32-38.

So in many ways, the final game of the first half was a microcosm of the group of 69 games that preceded it. The Nuts want better, as does their manager.

"That was a complete embarrassment from a team that was supposed to be better," said Lenn Sakata. "You'd think that this stuff would have worked itself out and we wouldn't be making the same mistakes."

Tyler Gagnon (5-5) was hit hard early before finding his rhythm to work six solid innings for Modesto.

But the mold for the game was cast in the first inning when Bakersfield's Steve Selsky lofted a two-out fly ball to right, where it was dropped by Jared Simon. Silverio followed with a homer to right-center for a 2-0 Blaze lead.

"You have to pitch your way out of mistakes," Sakata said. "Gagnon got through it, but he didn't pitch well. He was up in the strike zone and flat."

Taylor Featherston lined an RBI single in the bottom of the first, but Bakersfield added two more runs in the second on three hits, and the Nuts were chasing the lead the rest of the game.

David Kandilas homered to deep left-center — off the advertising sign above the fence to win $250 — to narrow the gap to 4-2 in the fifth, but the game got out of hand in the seventh, when a Modesto reliever gave up four runs in an inning for the third straight game.

This time it was Nick Schnaitmann, who allowed a single and three walks to the four batters he faced.

Russell Brewer entered, got ahead of Silverio with two quick strikes, then hung a slider, which Silverio hit halfway to Ceres for a grand slam and a 9-2 Bakersfield lead.

And that was that.

"It is what it is," Sakata said. "We just have to keep going out there and hope things will change. That will fall on the shoulders of the guys who go out there every five days, because they're going to have to keep us in games with good starts.

"Hopefully we'll be able to put some consistency together on offense to where our bats are better through the lineup. The offensive today was flat because we were behind all day and chasing."

But there are signs of hope. This was a team in April that failed consistently to drive-in runs with runners in scoring position and less than two outs, a situation in which strikeouts were a virtual guarantee.

That part of the offense is getting better, and it still won't take much improvement to turn a lot of narrow losses into victories.

"There was one stretch when we lost like 10 games and we had a lot of games in there we could have won with one more hit," Sakata said.

"It's an effort that the kids are putting in to get better in situational hitting, and all we can do is to keep stressing it and work on using the middle of the field. It is getting better."

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

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