BRADENTON -- After the Marauders let another chance slip away at McKechnie Field, every Bradenton hitter who played a role in Thursday's 1-0 loss to the Miracle slogged out of Michael Ryan's office.
Reese McGuire led the single-file line. The catcher's poor throw on a steal attempt in the seventh inning helped Fort Myers score its only run.
Jin-De Jhang brought up the rear. He was one of several 0-for-3s and there were too many 0-for-4s, too.
Ryan had a game plan for his hitters against Miracle starting pitcher Omar Bencomo and they failed to follow it. Bradenton was shut out for the first time since July 9 and Bencomo only needed 78 pitches to carve through the Marauders for seven shutout innings. Now the manager had to let them know.
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"We knew about him a little bit," Ryan said after his hitters had filed back into their locker room. "Just didn't execute against him."
Bencomo (1-1) is one of the most interesting cases in the Florida State League this season. Three weeks ago, the 26-year-old was pitching for the Wichita Wingnuts in the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball. Eight years ago, he was signed by Tampa Bay when it was still known as the Devil Rays. He was even a winter-league teammate of Ryan's.
Bencomo made his third Florida State League start this year and it was his best one yet. Austin Meadows singled to right with one out in the top of the first for Bradenton's first hit. Ryan warned about Bencomo's quick pick-off move and still the veteran nabbed the outfielder. For six innings, Bencomo faced the minimum.
"We let them know before the game that he had a quick move for first and what happens? The first guy gets picked off," Ryan said.
Meadows didn't get another hit and struck out twice. Outfielder Justin Maffei and utility infielder Chris Diaz had the only other two hits for the Pirates' Class A-Advanced affiliate, and Maffei was the only player to reach twice against Bencomo and the two relief pitchers who followed him.
The total offensive ineptitude was a rare sight for the Marauders, who have had the FSL's most prolific offense for most of the season. They lead the league in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging, and they've scored the most runs. Time is running out for Bradenton (64-59, 32-21) to close its four-game gap with the Cardinals, who lost 5-2 to the Mets on Thursday in Palm Beach.
And the 1-0 final score made this loss feel like an even bigger missed opportunity for the Marauders. Bradenton hasn't seen many pitcher's duels this season, so the 1,290 at McKechnie were treated to a rare sight and a tidy 2:24 game.
The Marauders called upon Felipe Gonzalez to start Thursday after they decided to shut down scheduled starter Clay Holmes for arm fatigue. The pitcher has swung between the rotation and bullpen since the start of August, never making the same type of appearance consecutively. His two relief outings were really good -- he didn't allow an earned run in three innings. His two starts were really bad -- he gave up seven earned runs in 3 1/3 innings.
"When he goes to his off speed a lot they see it more often and it doesn't seem as dirty," Ryan said.
Gonzalez finally found success as a starter Thursday. He hurled five scoreless innings, keeping Fort Myers (70-55) to four hits and a walk. He gave up a leadoff triple in the third inning when Harold Ramirez overran a fly ball in right field and still managed to escape when outfielder Jason Kanzler ripped a ground ball to third baseman Wyatt Mathisen, catching outfielder Marcus Knecht off the bag.
"The difference was my confidence," said Gonzalez, who will officially join the rotation for the final 15 games of the season. "The guy hit the triple and I was thinking get the inning scoreless."
The two excellent starts left Bradenton and the Miracle without much margin for error away from the mound. So a minor mistake by the Marauders let the Twin affiliate send the winning run around the bases.
Mitch Garver led off the seventh inning with a single against Henry Hirsch. The relief pitcher threw a pitch to the following batter in the dirt and Garver lumbered to second base. McGuire, normally steady behind the plate, fired way wide of the bag and the catcher was safe for his fifth steal of the year. He went to third on a grounder to second and came home when Logan Wade laced a single up the middle off Hirsch (2-3). Bradenton, which posed a threat in the sixth, never got another hit.
"He was throwing strike one right there and we were taking it," Ryan said of Bencomo. "If you pitch 0-1 all night you're gonna be efficient and you're probably going to get some swings next pitch that you don't want to put in play."