The 2014 California League season turned 20 games old on Wednesday, and here’s where we are with the Modesto Nuts.
They’re last in runs scored, worst in runs allowed and first in the hearts of Stanislaus County baseball fans.
The latest loss, a 7-0 defeat at the hands of the Bakersfield Blaze, marked the first time this season that Modesto has suffered back-to-back shutouts, so the outlook isn’t brightening for the Nuts, at least in the short-term scheme.
So why isn’t anybody worried? Because Modesto has seen this before.
No one ever has offered a valid explanation – one might now exist – but very few of the teams that have called John Thurman Field home over the last decade or so have posted a strong start to the season.
And it’s been worse recently. Over the last four seasons, Modesto is 33-59 in April. So bring on the showers, and of course the subsequent flowers.
It wouldn’t be fair to those teams or even safe to assume this Nuts team will follow the form of any preceding squad, but those same three teams that were a combined 26 games under .500 in April all went on to finish the season over .500, and all reached the California League playoffs.
“The frustration level is here, but you have to keep fighting it,” said Nuts manager Don Sneddon, witnessing the Nuts’ April Anguish for the first time.
“I know about the slow starts here, but I’ve never been a part of it and I don’t want to be a part of it. I want to get this thing going and we’re going to keep plugging away and make it happen.”
The antidote? Well, in past seasons Modesto teams have emerged from slumps one player at a time, with hits then spreading throughout the lineup slowly, like a contagion.
If that’s going to be the case this year, then maybe the rest of the Nuts should start sharing a germ zone with Matt Wessinger.
The St. John’s University product not only had four of Modesto’s eight hits against three Blaze pitchers, but has gone 11 for 16 (.688) in the last four games and 14 for 23 (.609) during his current six-game hitting streak.
“He was the highlight for us and he’s been working hard on that, but we need to get guys going around him,” Sneddon said. “It just takes one or two guys to get going and Wessinger did his part. We moved him up in the lineup and he gave us some opportunities, but we just didn’t get any hits behind him.”
Sean Dwyer added two hits for Modesto, which went hitless in six at-bats with runners in scoring position in the opening three innings, setting a tone for another frustrating game.
Making it even more frustrating for the Nuts was the two-out success of the Blaze. Jesse Winker, whose four hits included two doubles and a home run, stroked a two-out double for a 1-0 lead in the third, and Juan Perez had a two-out RBI single in the fourth.
That was all Bakersfield got against Modesto starter Matt Flemer (2-1), who allowed six hits over five innings with three strikeouts against two walks.
The Blaze pulled away in the sixth against Shane Broyles, who got two quick outs before Bakersfield got a walk, two singles and a double ahead of Winker’s three-run homer to center for a 7-0 lead.
“There was a little head-hanging tonight, but that was just the frustration of getting shut out two nights in a row, and maybe a couple guys missed their pitches,” Sneddon said. “There’s a lot of ball left and I’m sure we’ll get this turned around.”