The agony of this historically poor start to the Modesto Nuts’ season has been the stupefying sameness of the losses.
And Thursday afternoon’s 3-2 loss to Bakersfield fit the deepening mold.
Pitching was the culprit in the season’s first week, but since then a steady stream of hitters has marched to the plate, showing little patience while looking as if they’re trying to hit grand slams with the bases empty.
After the Nuts grabbed a 2-0 early lead then collected all of two singles in the final seven innings, and after Bakersfield closer Carlos Gonzalez needed only seven pitches to entice four pop-ups in a four-out save, Modesto manager Don Sneddon entered the clubhouse and closed the door.
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“I talked to them about keeping their heads up and staying positive, to find a way to win and not to play scared,” Sneddon said. “We’ve very timid in situations and we’re getting ourselves out by swinging at bad pitches.
“It was disappointing that we went up there in that situation and hit three pop-ups. It comes back to trying too hard to hit the home run, to be the hero, and we’re trying to learn how to play like we’re not a one-man team, that we’re a team and it takes quite a few guys working together to score runs – not just one, and especially in this park.”
With that, the Nuts closed their second homestand with a 5-16 mark, and with six games to go before May Day already holding a record for most April losses in the 10 seasons the Rockies have sent their young prospects to John Thurman Field.
“My main focus is to not get yourself out on bad pitches,” Sneddon said. “If you get a good hack and send it to the base of the fence and they chase it down, I don’t have a problem with that. I do have a problem when we chase ball four or we swing at a very low percentage pitch on a 2-1 count.”
It was a strong message to send, because it would have been very easy for Sneddon to blame the four infield errors that paved the way for the Blaze to score once in the seventh and twice more in the eighth.
But his stance is that the game never should have come down to nail-biting time, that the Nuts should have come up with enough team offense to win comfortably.
They started well, getting a run in the first when Trevor Story’s two-out double was followed by Sean Dwyer’s single.
Modesto added a run in the second in what was a scary moment. Jordan Ribera’s opposite-field drive down the line in left reached the wall at the same time as Blaze left fielder Jesse Winker.
Winker crashed hard into the barrier and lay motionless on the warning track for several seconds as Ribera thundered around the bases with an inside-the-park home run. Winker, one of the top hitting prospects in the Cincinnati organization, was helped off the field and taken to a hospital with a possible concussion.
Modesto starter Ben Alsup appeared poised to make the 2-0 lead hold up. He breezed through six innings, but two throwing errors on the same play allowed Bakersfield to score an unearned run in the seventh.
The eighth featured more of the same, as a poor throw at the start of a possible inning-ending double play led directly to the Blaze’s two-run game-winning rally, with the go-ahead run scoring on a wild pitch.
The losses are mounting in the standings and increasingly weighing on the minds of the players.
More and more, players are staying in the dugout following the final outs of these games, taking moments to stare into the dugout railing as if answers can be found there.