MODESTO — As Tyler Gagnon struggled to get the final out of the fifth inning, Modesto Nuts' manager Lenn Sakata could do nothing but sit on his hands.
Pulling his starter in the fifth inning would have placed additional burden on a bullpen already overtaxed partly by decisions made off the field so Sakata's hands were tied.
As such, San Jose added three runs in the fifth before Gagnon's evening was done, giving the visiting Giants a six-run lead in what became an 10-3 victory at Thurman Field.
"The shortage of pitching is catching up to us," Sakata said. "Our bullpen is light. I'm managing the game to save bullets because I don't have a full pen, and the guys we have down there have limits to how often they can pitch."
This is a big series for Modesto, which is trying get off to a fast second-half start in the California League's North Division after a disappointing first half. As such, it would have helped the Nuts to go into the three-game set with a fully stocked arsenal.
But Modesto's bullpen was taxed during the four-game series in High Desert, and further depleted in the series opener by the Colorado Rockies' mandate that Monday's starter Eddie Butler could throw no more than five innings.
Butler left on Monday with a 2-0 lead and ample fuel in the tank. The bullpen couldn't hold the lead and took the loss, working the last four innings and boosting the Nuts' relief load to 192/3 innings over the last six games.
The bullpen odometer put Sakata in a spot where every out he could get from Gagnon on Tuesday would be golden, forcing the manager to leave his starter in the game longer than he appeared to be effective.
"I wouldn't leave anybody out there to get knocked around," Sakata said. "We're already down a guy in the pen because we should be carrying eight instead of the seven we have."
Gagnon (6-7) walked the leadoff hitter in the first and second innings, and both scored as San Jose grabbed an early 3-0 lead.
The Nuts collected one hit over two innings against Santiago Casilla, the San Francisco Giants' reliever making his second rehab appearance with San Jose after undergoing knee surgery.
Casilla, on a limit of 25 pitches, hit his allotment on the button, topping out at 93 MPH and leaving without a walk or a strikeout.
Gagnon, who needed 76 pitches to get through four innings, faded quickly in the 100 degree heat in the fifth, giving up a double to to Kelby Tomlinson and home runs to Mac Williamson and Jeff Arnold before getting back to the dugout.
The Nuts got to reliever Austin Fleet for two runs in the fifth, scoring their runs on a bases-loaded infield hit by Brian Humphries and a bases-loaded walk by Ryan Casteel.
With the tying run at the plate, the Nuts couldn't cash-in, as Fleet ended his outing with strikeouts of Jared Simon and Will Swanner.
"We're still not hitting," Sakata said. "We struck out three times with the bases loaded. It's like we've reverted back to the way we were in April."
San Jose then pounded away at Modesto's fatigued bullpen. Russell Brewer, who gave up three home runs on Sunday, gave up three doubles and a triple to the five batters he faced before being removed with a sore elbow.
Then, Nelson Gonzalez, who was hit hard and took the loss on Monday, was forced into service in back-to-back games and gave up four hits and a run.
"I didn't want to have to pitch Nelson again today, because now he has to sit," Sakata said. "Brewer is hurt. So our short bullpen with seven is down to six tomorrow with Nelson down and now we have five with Brewer hurt."
Will it get better anytime soon? There are members of the Colorado front office in town. They're getting the chance to see first-hand how the the Nuts' bullpen is barely hanging on, and they're the people with the power to change the situation either by infusing additional arms or easing some of their own restrictions.
"It's a tough thing to have to deal with," Sakata said. "After a while, playing to win doesn't even enter into the equation."
Brian VanderBeek can be reached at (209) 578-2150 or follow him on Twitter, @modestobeek
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