The Modesto Nuts started the season slowly. In mid-April, they veered off into a slump. By the end of the month, they were sliding.
And as of Thursday night, the Nuts officially are in a rut.
The 7-3 loss to Bakersfield was Modesto's sixth in a row and eighth in nine games.
There have been too many times already this season in which the culprit was hitting. And Thursday's eight-hit output, while not ample, also wasn't inept.
Never miss a local story.
Yet all through that time, the question was what would happen to the Nuts if the pitching staff or defense -- the constants in the season's first month -- ever went into a slump.
And now we know.
In sweeping the three-game set, Bakersfield outhit Modesto 42-25 and outscored its host 25-14. Those Blaze numbers are big for any other park in the California League but astronomical for John Thurman Field. Modesto also committed six errors in the series after going errorless over the weekend in Stockton.
"The defense has been good this year -- you bet," Nuts manager Jerry Weinstein said. "But you're going to have good and bad nights offensively and defensively in degrees of variation."
Nuts starter Keith Weiser was in constant trouble and threw 117 pitches before being pulled with two outs in the fifth. Some of the trouble, however, wasn't his doing because of the defense.
"Weiser was outstanding," Weinstein said. "In the first inning, we have to make some plays behind him, and in the second inning, we have to make a play. It could have been 3-0 in our favor into the fifth. He had to throw a lot of pitches because we didn't do a very good job defensively."
Weiser (2-4) allowed a run in the first on a two-out RBI single and two more in the second on three consecutive two-out hits. Modesto answered with a run in the first on Cole Garner's two-out RBI single and two more in the fourth on Victor Ferrante's triple and singles by Jason Van Kooten and Anthony Jackson.
With the score tied 3-3, Modesto needed a shutdown inning. Instead, the Nuts' defense faltered. Two infield errors led to two unearned runs and a 5-3 Blaze lead. When Bakersfield greeted reliever Will Harris with four hits in a row to open the seventh, the Blaze had a four-run lead.
Modesto did have eight hits, which for the Nuts is an average night at the plate. Jackson and Daniel Mayora had two hits apiece. But Modesto also struck out 11 times, which unfortunately for it also is a pretty common feat.
The end of tonight's game against Lake Elsinore will mark the quarter point of the 140-game season. There remains a long road ahead, even as the road already travelled grows longer.
But, as Yogi Berra so eloquently spoke, "It gets late early out there."
"We're trying," Weinstein said. "We're not very good right now, but we're going to get better."
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.