BRADENTON -- Fresh from spinning five no-hit innings during the first high Single-A start of his young career, John Kuchno was thankful.
Thankful to God.
Thankful to the guys who played behind him.
Thankful to the guy squatting 60 feet, six inches away from him.
The Bradenton Marauders' fifth home opener ended with a dazzling fireworks show Saturday night. But thanks mostly to Kuchno, that was as explosive as things got. Behind their tall righty, the Marauders beat the Charlotte Stone Crabs 4-2 in front of 1,772 fans at McKechnie Field to improve their record to 2-1.
"To God be all the glory," said Kuchno, an 18th-round of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Marauders' parent club, in 2012. "It was a good first start to the season."
The tall righty induced nine groundouts -- "That's my M.O.," Kuchno said -- and a pair of double plays, needing 60 pitches to get
through five innings. But after the Marauders went down in the bottom of the fifth, reliever Pat Ludwig came out of the bullpen and Kuchno walked toward the clubhouse.
"I would have liked to keep going, obviously," said Kuchno, who won nine games last year with low Single-A West Virginia. "But they're looking out for me."
Though he declined to get into specifics, Marauders manager Tom Prince said Kuchno had reached a limit. He also said he loved what he saw from this starter.
"Great job by Kuch," he said. "That's what I expect (the ground balls), and that's exactly what we got."
When the Stone Crabs did get the ball in the air, Kuchno got some big-time help from Jeff Roy, the Marauders' speedy center fielder. With runners on the corners, two out and Bradenton up by a run in the fifth, Roy sprinted back toward the wall, dived and took a sure extra-base hit away from Stone Crabs' designated hitter Josh Sale.
"I just put my head down and ran. Then I picked my head up and realized I had a chance," said Roy, drafted by the Pirates last summer in the 18th round. "Usually, when you're in Little League and stuff, you do those catches. And when you get it in a game, it's a great feeling, especially the home opener."
Roy ranked the catch right up there with the one he made to help his alma mater, Bishop Hendricken High School in Rhode Island, win the 2010 state championship.
Kuchno was a bit more impressed.
"That's the greatest catch I've ever seen in my life, and it deserves to be on SportsCenter," he said. "I waited for him on the infield and said, 'Dude, that's the greatest catch I've ever seen in my life.' And he started laughing. Sale's a good hitter, and he got into it pretty good, and thankfully Jeff had my back."
Jose Osuna and Josh Bell, the latter considered one of the top 100 prospects in baseball, homered for the Marauders, and catcher Jacob Stallings, who also earned Kuchno's praise, and Jordan Sterenka added RBIs.
Sterenka, who had two hits, is 8-for-11 on the season.
Ludwig went three innings, allowing two unearned runs and two hits, before Josh Smith struck out two in the ninth to record Bradenton's first save of the season.
Not a bad way to start the season, said Prince, a Bradenton resident who managed the GCL Pirates for six seasons.
"I was extremely proud with how they presented themselves and how they played the game," he said of the Marauders. "I'm enjoying my time so far."