VISALIA — This is the 10th season of Modesto Nuts baseball, and when the team arrived at John Thurman Field on Wednesday evening the old ballpark never looked so good.
Because somewhere at home have to be the answers for a team struggling right now just to find relevant questions. Tonight’s home opener comes just in time for a team that dropped to 0-7 with a 5-2 late afternoon loss to the Visalia Rawhide.
“We’re O.K.,” said Nuts manager Don Sneddon. “We’re getting some things ironed out and the guys making their second starts have given us some better-pitched games the last two days. It’s tough to start the season with seven on the road and facing some of the guys we’ve faced. It’s been a big adjustment already for some of our guys and we’re anxious to get home.”
While sliding through four games in Bakersfield and three in Visalia toward what now is tied for the longest losing streak in Nuts’ history, the Nuts led at the end of an inning in only one game, for a total of four innings. During the road trip, the home team never had to bat in the ninth.
Trevor Story had three hits to raise his average to .387 and Will Swanner added two as Modesto outhit its hosts 8-7. But two Visalia home runs – a two-run shot by Socrates Brito in the sixth and a solo shot two innings later by Brandon Jacobs – provided the Rawhide with its margin of victory.
“Offensively we’ve done enough,” Sneddon said. “In one game we had a guy hit for a cycle and another hit a grand slam and we still lost the game.”
Ryan Gibbard (0-2) came up with what easily was the best start this for a staff that not only is looking for its first win but has yet to notch that a quality start.
Gibbard, a former Milwaukee farmhand signed by Colorado in late January out of independent baseball, became the first Nuts pitcher this season to work into the sixth inning. The 6-feet, 3-inch righty entered the sixth in a 1-1 tie but got only two outs in the inning while giving up three runs.
His final line still was solid, as Gibbard gave up three runs on five hits, with one walk against four strikeouts. He deserved better, leaving with two outs in the sixth, trailing 2-1 with a runner aboard. But Brito greeted reliever Jacob Newberry with a first-pitch home run for a 4-1 Rawhide lead.
That pitch pattern repeated itself in the bottom of the eighth, as the first pitch delivered by Raul Hernandez was blasted out to right field by Visalia designated hitter Brandon Jacobs.
Rancho Cucamonga opens the Nuts’ home season with a four-game series. It will be the only visit to Modesto this season for the High-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Quakes’ roster includes relief pitcher Blake Smith, a Downey High graduate who at this time last summer was a Double-A outfielder before moving to the mound.
A homecoming for Smith against a team just looking for a semblance of home. Many of the Nuts players, Sneddon said, have yet to move into their houses or apartments. And being on the road means nothing has been regular for the Nuts – no set times for batting practice, no field time for extra work, no way for players to get into a rhythm.
“We’re anxious to get home and get players into their apartments,” Sneddon said. “In this road trip we had five different start times and we never knew when we were getitng onto the field. We had three different start times in three games in Visalia. It makes it tough to get into a routine. I’m a routine person and at least for me that was a distraction.”