Tuesday brought Modesto Nuts game No. 32 of the 2008 season to John Thurman Field. That's three games short of the quarter-pole, or in baseball terms, still very early.
Geoff Strickland chooses to look at the Nuts' lack of hitting in exactly those terms — through a glass one-quarter full instead of three-quarters empty, even after another light-hitting team effort in an 8-5 loss to Bakersfield.
Strickland had a single and a home run, while Cole Garner and Victor Ferrante had two singles each. The other six batters in the order combined to go hitless in 19 at-bats.
But what the fans don't see, according to Strickland, is how hard and focused these guys are in the four hours before each day's game, when the real work gets done. It's that work, he says, that is going to make the Nuts' team hitting slump a thing of the past very soon.
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"We have 10 guys here every day doing early work, and the guys who don't go there do their own hitting in the cage," Strickland said. "We're trying to get it together, but we always seem to be one batter away, or one hit from getting the big inning."
That was the case in the ninth inning. The Nuts trailed 8-3, but Matt Repec reached on an error, then Strickland connected two outs later for his first home run of the season. Walks to Anthony Jackson and Jason Van Kooten brought Mike Paulk to the plate as the potential tying run, but Paulk flew to center for the final out.
Modesto scored in the first inning for the second consecutive game, getting two early runs off Blaze starter and Sacramento City College product Zach Phillips (3-2). Phillips hit Van Kooten and walked Paulk with one out, then Garner and Ferrante followed with RBI singles.
Staked to the 2-0 lead, Modesto starter Aneury Rodriguez (2-3) promptly allowed four runs in the top of the second on a hit batsman and four singles. Two walks and a single in the third gave the Blaze a 5-2 lead and ended the night for Rodriguez.
He entered the game with a 2.86 ERA — third best among California League right-handers — but needed 79 pitches to record eight outs in his shortest outing of the season.
"Aneury didn't have good command and he just didn't have good stuff," said Nuts manager Jerry Weinstein. "There's nothing you can do in that situation but try to minimize the damage. We got him out of there and (Brandon) Durden did a pretty good job."
The Nuts got a run back in the sixth when Garner and Ferrante led off with back-to-back singles, with Garner advancing around to score on two ground balls.
But the Blaze again answered immediately with three runs against Durden, taking the five-run lead into the ninth. That's when the Nuts came up a hit or two short once again.
"We have how many more games, 100?" Strickland said. "We're working hard every day, so hopefully something is starting to click. Other than that, I don't know what to say about the hitting. It's not like we're not trying."