The Modesto Nuts are giving away team posters every Sunday this season, and so far there hasn’t been one featuring starting pitcher Ben Alsup.
In a way that’s too bad, because Alsup might be the team’s top candidate for poster child, the symbol for the season-long struggles the team has faced.
Wednesday’s 8-2 loss to San Jose was just the latest in a string of Alsup starts in which he pitched well enough to win, and did just enough to lose – something the Nuts have done as a team all season.
The California League’s leading winner last season with 13 wins, and that coming off a 14-win 2012 season in Asheville, Alsup is 0-9 this year. This latest start was typical of his personal woes. He pitched well, allowing three earned runs over 71/3 innings, with three strikeouts against no walks.
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“I’ve been in baseball a long time and there isn’t a guy who deserves a win more than that guy,” said Nuts manager Don Sneddon.
“He pitches his heart out every night and does a great job. We can’t get the runs at the right time or make the right play behind him. Right now he’s the most hard-luck pitcher I’ve had in my career.”
It marked the 10th straight start in which he’s allowed five or fewer runs. You’d think that the Nuts offense would have broken out in at least one of those games to cover their pitcher. Instead, Modesto fell to 2-15 in Alsup’s starts this season.
“I’ve forgotten about not having won a game,” Alsup said. “It’s one of those seasons. We’re still out there fighting every day and I’m out there competing as hard as I can and I know the guys behind me are doing the same.”
Modesto, which hasn’t led in this series, allowed single runs to the Giants in the first, fourth and fifth innings, with Brian Ragina’s long homer to left accounting for the fourth-inning run.
The Nuts tried to scratch back, getting a run in the fifth when Derek Jones doubled and scored on a ground ball by Kyle Von Tungeln, and another in the sixth when Pat Valaika singled and eventually came home on Jordan Ribera’s single.
But that was all Modesto would muster against San Jose starter Joe Biagini (5-5), who other than the hiccups in the fourth and fifth breezed through seven innings, allowing five hits.
Jon Keck relieved Alsup in the eighth and allowed an inherited run to score on a two-out infield single, and San Jose added four insurance runs in the ninth off Rayan Gonzalez.
Put all that together and it spells Modesto’s 56th loss against 27 wins, and a four-game losing streak – its ninth slide this season of three or more games.
It’s quickly approaching the point where it would be too late in the season for the kind of turnaround that would make the Nuts relevant in the California League standings, but that doesn’t mean personal goals should be abandoned.
And for Alsup, a win would be nice.
“The whole thing for a starter is to give the team a chance to win,” Alsup said. “There have been times I’ve done that and other times when I haven’t.
“At that point you have to sit back and look at the situations where I could have done better as a pitcher – what pitch I could have thrown better. It breaks down to smaller events that you know you could have done better.”