Seven games into the 140-game marathon that is the California League baseball season, the one thing Modesto Nuts manager Lenn Sakata knows for certain is that opening on the road is a difficult ordeal.
The Nuts went 3-4 on their roadtrip through San Bernardino and Rancho Cucamonga, and then came the ride home.
The bus that carried the players and coaches did not arrive at John Thurman Field until 4:30 a.m. Thursday, or just 14 1/2 hours before Modesto’s home opener, so the Nuts did not take batting practice or have infield/outfield work before its opener.
“It’s the kind of thing we have to deal with all year,” Sakata said. “But this is our home field and we haven’t been on it yet for a game. Exhibitions (which the Nuts did not play this season) are OK, but you need to get something out of them. At that point we really needed days off more than an exhibition.
Never miss a local story.
“This homestand is important because it gives us a chance to work a little bit longer on hitting. Starting on the road like that is tough, especially when you’re coming right out of spring training. You have three days to get things together and figure out who everybody is. It’s a difficult time to get out of the chute hot.”
Modesto hit only .237 on the road trip, scoring only 24 runs in those seven games. The saving grace came on the mound, where the five starters allowed only eight earned runs in the first turn through the rotation.
Coming out of spring training with a 90-pitch limit (instead of the usual 70-75) has already paid dividends. The Nuts opened the season with three seven-inning outings from its starters. In 2012, Modesto had only five starts of seven-plus innings all season, and never back-to-back.
“What’s happening on the mound, especially when compared to last year, is a huge difference,” Sakata said. “Pitching is important, but we’re challenged in other areas, especially offensively. Some guys are struggling out of the gate. They just have to get their feet underneath them and get used to the way they’re being pitched to this year as opposed to last year.”
Only six of the 25 players in uniform for Modesto have played for the Nuts before, and the majority of the other 19 were on the Asheville team that claimed the South Atlantic League title last season.
“The guys are confident about their ability to win,” Sakata said. “They want to win and they pull for each other. I can see already that the chemistry is decent. Last year’s (Modesto) team really didn’t have a face because of constant movement, guys not performing and others getting hurt. It wasn’t until the final month of the season that the guys realized they had a chance to play in the postseason if they’d just pull together.
“Every year is different and this is a totally different team, but I like what I see these guys doing. I like the kids on a personal level, too.”