STOCKTON — The mystery that has been the season of Modesto Nuts pitcher Ben Alsup is so deep that even Alsup can’t figure it out.
Alsup was the top pitcher in the California League over the final eight weeks of the 2013 season, spotting a fastball at 91-93 mph and finishing with a league-high 13 wins.
This season, with a fastball at 87-90, Alsup is starting to rely on other pitches to get outs, but the wins still haven’t come, with the latest setback Sunday’s 3-0 loss to the Stockton Ports.
So in essence, it’s a twin mystery. In addition to why Alsup’s velocity is down, one has to wonder how on Earth he can be 0-7, especially with this being his third quality start in his last seven outings.
Alsup actually has an answer for the first one, but even his answer is somewhat in the form of a personal riddle.
“At the start of last season, I was pitching 87-90 like I am now,” Alsup said. “I don’t know what it is, but I seem to feel better at the end of seasons. The more innings I pitch, the stronger I get.”
But the Louisiana State product also has the coaching staff scratching its collective head.
“I don’t know why the velocity isn’t there, but because of it he’s had to learn to pitch more,” Nuts manager Don Sneddon said. “He’s getting his breaking ball over, and today was one of his better-pitched games this year.
“We wasted a good pitching performance that kept us in the game. We had opportunities and made a couple mistakes, and we’re so close in so many games that every play like that is magnified and can win or lose you the ballgame.”
There were three mistakes committed by the Nuts, and each was costly in a very tangible way. The silver lining was that none were caused by a lack of effort.
In the second inning, Alsup fell behind 2-0 to Ports first baseman Ryan Healy, who then sat on a fastball and drilled a solo homer to left-center for the first run.
The second mistake came in the Nuts’ fifth, when Kyle Von Tungeln, speeding to complete a triple to right, over-slid the base and was tagged for the second out. The baserunning error was magnified when David Kandilas was hit by a pitch and Chris O’Dowd lined an off-field double.
The Nuts would get only one baserunner the rest of the way against three Stockton pitchers.
Von Tungeln was involved in the other mistake, also of the “can’t fault the effort” variety. Ports third baseman Renato Nunez, leading off seventh against Alsup, drilled a sinking line drive toward left-center.
Von Tungeln, in an effort to make a great play to support his pitcher, dived for the ball instead of conceding the single. The ball got past him for a triple, and Nunez scored the second run on Dusty Robinson’s bloop single over a drawn-in infield. Robinson later would steal second and score Stockton’s third run.
“You do try to look at these as mistakes of aggression, and these guys are learning the game,” Sneddon said. “And we also have gotten on the kids about being aggressive and – if they’re going to make mistakes to make them aggressive mistakes – but they also have to be smart aggressive mistakes.”
The Nuts collected only six hits in being shut out for the fifth time this season, with Von Tungeln’s two hits leading the way.
And Alsup, who joins Matt Flemer as the only two members of the original starting rotation still with the team, will have two more starts in the first half in his personal effort to get off the schneid.
“It’s one of those things,” Alsup said. “I have to keep competing. I’m not going to give up, and that’s just the kind of person my parents raised.
“I have a whole team behind me and all of us were struggling, and now we’re all starting to come around. We’re in a lot of close games, and now we have to turn it over.”