Moments after absorbing the toughest loss of the young season, a 7-6, 12-inning decision to the San Jose Giants, Modesto Nuts manager Jerry Weinstein was taking solace in a Japanese philosophical approach to worker productivity.
"We're improving constantly in small increments," Weinstein said. "That's Kaizen."
Kaizen theories are generally relevant only in matters of industry, but Weinstein's application somehow fits the early season efforts of his team.
The Nuts are struggling to hit. They collected only seven hits Monday after tallying a total of 11 over the previous three games. Yet every night those hits seem to be more productive.
After back-to-back games with one run on three hits, Modesto won Sunday with three runs on five hits.
Sure, those are small things. Yet they are small steps forward. Consistent, Kaizen.
Back to baseball.
San Jose scored the winning run off David Patton (0-2), the sixth Modesto pitcher, who gave up three singles to load the bases. After a force out at home accounted for the first out, Patton walked Anthony Contreras on four pitches to break the 6-6 tie.
Patton escaped further trouble when Pablo Sandoval grounded into a double play, but the damage was done.
Kelvin Pichardo, the sixth Giants pitcher, retired the Nuts in order to earn the save and keep San Jose perfect through the first five games of their California League season. The Nuts fell to 2-3 on their season-opening seven-game homestand.
The Giants jumped out to a 5-0 lead before the Nuts collected their first hit off Yosandy Ibanez, a 25-year-old Cuban defector making his first professional start.
The first three Giants runs came off Nuts starter Xavier Cedeno, who left after two outs in the fourth with pain in his throwing shoulder. San Jose added two runs in the fifth off reliever Tomas Santiago.
Modesto's first hit — its only hit off Ibanez — produced its first two runs. Valdez walked and Lino Garcia was hit by a pitch with one out in the fifth, and both scored when Travis Becktel lined a two-out single to left-center. The Nuts added another run off reliever Anthony Moreno in the sixth. Dexter Fowler tripled to right-center and scored when Jeff Kindel grounded out to first base.
San Jose answered with a run in the eighth, but Modesto countered in the bottom half when Jason Van Kooten walked, went to third on a Kindel single and scored on a wild pitch. Valdez poked a two-out single to center on an 0-2 pitch to pull the Nuts within a run.
Modesto tied the game in the ninth when Daniel Carte led off with a double, went to third on a Becktel fly to deep center and scored on an Eric Young fly to deep right.
"We're just scratching for every run we can get right now," Weinstein said. "We're averaging about a run per hit. That's a good sign, because when we do start swinging the bats we're going to score a lot of runs."
Brian VanderBeek can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2301.