Ports' pitchers keep Nuts off basepaths

Double-digit strikeouts dragging Modesto down

bvanderbeek@modbee.comJuly 12, 2013 

Let's get the snarky joke out of the way right up front, because if this year's Modesto Nuts had an official breakfast cereal, it would be Special K.

It's really that simple to see the reason why the Nuts have not been able to put together any kind of sustained offensive success in 2013. It's difficult to score runs when so many hitters are carrying their bats back to the dugout.

Modesto whiffed another 13 times on Friday night, including four times with runners in scoring position, while dropping a 3-1 decision to Stockton in front of 3,950 at John Thurman Field.

The baker's dozen isn't a horrible number by any means except when it happens on a regular basis.

And Modesto now has struck out 936 times this season in 93 games, which puts the Nuts on pace to become the first team in the history of a league that started before World War II to strike out an average of 10 times per game.

"A lot of it it attributed to how good the pitching against us has been, and those guys were pretty good tonight," said Modesto hitting coach Jon Stone. "You have to tip your cap sometimes. But sometimes with two strikes the guys need to focus more on just squaring up the ball. That's easier said than done."

In this game, they squandered some excellent pitching by Tyler Gagnon (7-8,) newcomer Ryan Buch and closer Scott Oberg, who pitched the ninth to get in some work because save situations have been scarce lately.

Stockton scored two unearned runs in the first after shortstop Trevor Story failed to corral a pop fly in short left.

The Ports added a run in the fifth that was an earned gift. With one out, Gagnon plunked Myrio Richard with a fastball that had all the signs of being a purpose pitch.

In Thursday's game, Richard twice clipped the glove of catcher Will Swanner with the long follow through of his swing, and the two exchanged words the second time it happened.

This time, with Swanner again behind the plate, Richard came around to score after being drilled when Addison Russell followed with a double and Max Muncy delivered an RBI ground out.

Modesto's only run came in the sixth when Story doubled and trotted home on Ryan Casteel's two-out single to center.

Gagnon notched his second straight outstanding start, with this six-inning, five-hit effort with one walk and eight strikeouts following an eight-inning, two-run effort at Bakersfield.

Ryan Buch made his Nuts' debut by pitching two hitless innings, showing a power arm and an over-the-top curveball that should make him effective out of the pen.

"It was good to get him out there to get his feet wet," said Nuts' manager Fred Nelson. "The first inning he was erratic, but you'd expect that in a first appearance.

"That's a good arm on a nice young man and Dave Burba will be able to follow through on what they'd done in Tulsa before he came here, and he'll make a nice addition to what we have here."

The Nuts were throttled by Stockton starter Tanner Peters (8-5,) who gave up one run on five hits over six innings, but were handed a potential rally in the seventh by reliever T.J. Walz, who hit two batters and walked one.

Tucker Healy entered and struck out Story on a high fastball on a 3-2 count. The bases loaded situation has not been kind this season to Story, who is zero-for-13 with six strikeouts with no room on the bases.

"All we can do is make the players aware of the situation and find a way to have them find the adjustment that works for them," Stone said. "It's a tough call as to what makes a good two-strike hitter, which makes that a tough question."

That's all true, but it remains a question that will have to be answered soon for the Nuts to be able to make a run at the postseason.

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

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