The Modesto Nuts suddenly are adept at using a shovel. They've dug huge holes for themselves in each of the last two games.
As a result of the slow starts, the Bakersfield Blaze will enter tonight's game with a chance to wield a broom.
Nuts pitchers Simon Ferrer and Tommy Baumgardner allowed five runs apiece as Modesto fell behind by eight Wednesday afternoon en route to a 10-6 loss to the Blaze before 3,211 fans -- mostly Stanislaus County schoolchildren.
The Nuts have lost five consecutive games and seven of eight to fall further behind in the California League's North Division. Bakersfield will go for a sweep of the three-game series tonight at John Thurman Field.
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A popular theory heard often in baseball circles is that pitching staffs begin to work more tenuously when the run production behind them is inconsistent. And since the Nuts continue to rank last the league in runs scored, that certainly could be a factor in Modesto's recent pitching. The Nuts have allowed 40 runs in five games.
Manager Jerry Weinstein isn't buying that notion. He believes a pitcher's primary goal shouldn't change according to what his teammates do when he's not on the mound.
"Every pitcher is going out there trying to get every hitter out with every pitch," Weinstein said. "They never go out there thinking that they have to pitch better because we're not scoring runs.
"And we had plenty of runs (Wednesday). We had six runs, and that wins a lot of Cal League games. But we didn't pitch well, we didn't run the bases well, and we didn't play real good defense."
Ferrer, a knuckleballer, was done in by the kind of hits knuckleballers tend to allow. A series of pop-ups and soft liners mixed with two walks allowed Bakersfield to score five runs in the first four innings.
Modesto scored a run in the second on Michael McKenry's fourth home run of the season, and another in the fourth when Anthony Jackson's two-out double to center scored Matt Repec from first base.
Their only chance for a big inning off Blaze starter Evan Reed (2-1) came in the third, when the Nuts loaded the bases with one out. McKenry hit a bullet of a ground ball toward third base, only to see it speared by Johnny Whittleman and turned into a double play.
The Blaze kept the pressure on against Baumgardner, scoring a run in the sixth and four in the seventh on two-run singles by K.C. Herren and Julio Borbon to take a 10-2 lead.
Modesto answered with four runs in the bottom of the inning on five hits and an error, but even that uprising could have been bigger since Daniel Mayora was gunned down trying to go from first to third on a single.
Just another element in a loss.
"We were bad on the mound, and we didn't defend well," Weinstein said. "We also made one humongous baserunning error. It wasn't an offensive thing that beat us. If we swing the bat like this every day up to this point, we're looking at a different gig."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2300.