Two years ago, while playing for Asheville, N.C., Ben Alsup led the South Atlantic League with 14 wins.
Last season, the slender right-hander led the California League with 13 victories in Modesto.
So, it’s all the more mystifying how the 6-foot-3, 180-pound LSU product could be winless in 18 starts this season.
Well, wonder no more, because Alsup is off the schneid.
The Nuts scored two runs in the first inning and exploded for six in the second to give their starter plenty of wiggle room in a 9-6 victory over the Bakersfield Blaze on Sunday night at John Thurman Field.
At the Advanced-A level of the minor leagues, more emphasis is placed on developing talent and fine-tuning skills than purely on wins and losses. But still …
“It’s always nice to win,” said Alsup, who had a 30-16 career record in the minors before this season. “But it’s a better time winning that losing, I can tell you that.”
Alsup (1-9) threw 100 pitches in six innings, scattering seven hits while walking three and giving up four runs. He was cruising along until the sixth, when he gave up three runs on four hits, which turned an 8-1 laugher into a more serious 8-4 score.
Things got even more perilous when Alving Mejias, who took over for Alsup to start the seventh, walked the first batter and then served up a two-run homer to Jeff Gelalich. Just like that, it was 8-6, and when Mejias loaded the bases with one out, alarm bells went off in the Nuts’ dugout.
Manager Don Sneddon made a call to the bullpen, and Shane Broyles came on and got Juan Perez to ground into a 4-6-3 double play to end the threat.
“Things aren’t always as obvious as they seem,” Broyles said of Alsup’s pitching record. “He’s had some good outings, but things just haven’t worked his way.
“But you’re always out there playing for your teammates, and it’s our job as a bullpen to keep the game where it’s at.”
Broyles certainly did. After dousing the flames in the seventh, he struck out three of the final eight batters he faced to record his first save of the season.
While the Blaze squandered a scoring opportunity in the first – Zach Vincej doubled to lead off the game but was stranded at third – the Nuts were able to cash in during the bottom half of the frame.
David Kandilas, who rejoined the Nuts on Sunday after spending the previous three weeks with Double-A Tulsa of the Texas League, led off with a single.
Mike Tauchman walked and Dave Bergin, who rejoined the Nuts after about two weeks in Tulsa, laced a double over the third-base bag to plate Kandilas. With runners on second and third, Jordan Ribera launched the first pitch he saw to deep center, allowing Tauchman to tag up and give Modesto a 2-0 lead.
Bakersfield’s shaky start bled into the second inning when Vincej, the shortstop, committed a throwing error that allowed Pat Valaika to reach first. Dean Espy followed by ripping an 0-1 fastball for a double to right-center, making it 3-0.
Catcher Michael Ramirez singled to put runners on the corners for Kandilas, who singled again to plate Espy for a 4-0 advantage.
With runners on first and second, Tauchman hit a grounder to first baseman Harold Riggins, whose throw to second hit a sliding Kandilas and bounced into the outfield. After Bergin fanned for the first out, Ribera belted a three-run double to left, making it 7-0, and went to third on the throw home. He scored the sixth run of the inning on a sacrifice fly by Matt Wessinger.
From there, it was up to Alsup. And he responded.
“He started poorly this season, but the last six or seven outings he’s gotten better and better and better,” Sneddon said. “He’s a gamer, and he competes out there and he never let the record affect his performance.”
Catchers Chris O’Dowd and Will Swanner were promoted to Tulsa, while catcher Alex San Juan of Grand Junction (Colo.) of the Pioneer League was promoted to Modesto. Also, outfielder Kyle Von Tunglen was added to the seven-day disabled list.