BRADENTON -- Every member of the Marauders' starting lineup had seen Brent Honeywell twice before Justin Maffei came to bat with two outs in the sixth inning. The only two batters to reach base against the Stone Crabs' starting pitcher to that point had been Harold Ramirez, who walked and was promptly picked off, and Reese McGuire, who was sent to first after a catcher's interference.
Honeywell had cruised despite rocket after rocket flying off Bradenton's bats and into the outfield. Maffei launched the latest out to left field, twirling Yoel Araujo around as he tried to track the fly. This one finally dropped over an outfielder's head. Maffei rolled into second.
This was the only hit the Marauders managed against Honeywell on Friday. Austin Meadows, the next batter, grounded out to second and in the seventh inning the Crabs brought in Chih-Wei Hu. The new pitcher brought gas for the final three innings, hovering at 96 mph to close out the Stone Crabs' 3-1 win at McKechnie Field. Bradenton's loss, nearly its first shutout since July 9, keeps the Marauders (62-55, 31-16) three games behind the Cardinals in the Florida State League South's second-half standings.
"He was outstanding. You just tip your cap," manager Michael Ryan said. "He was really nasty."
Honeywell (4-2) solidified himself as one of the Rays' top pitching prospects -- and a top-100 prospect in all of MLB -- this year with a strong stint for Class A Bowling Green and flashes of excellence during his first nine starts at Class A Advanced. The 2014 second-round pick entered Friday with a 4.50 ERA, although that number was inflated by a pair of duds to start his Charlotte (62-53, 17-28) career, including a start against Bradenton that lasted only 2 1/3 innings. Four starts ago, he went the distance in a four-hitter for the first shutout of his young professional career.
For six innings, a McKechnie crowd of 1,023, some of whom were certainly there to watch the Tampa Bay affiliate, Honeywell was even better than he was during that July 18 shutout against the Yankees. His three outs in the first came on an easy grounder, an infield popup and a pickoff. During the next three innings, he collected his only three strikeouts while also getting a groundout in each frame.
"He was on today," said first baseman Jordan Steranka, who drove in the Marauders' only run in the ninth. "We put some put at-bats together, hit the ball hard.
"They've had a tough streak going, so they were kind of due for a win there."
And as Honeywell dominated he rendered Bradenton's best start of the season meaningless. Cody Dickson became the second starter for the Pirates' FSL team to pitch into the eighth inning this season and he needed only 86 pitches to make it through eight.
While Honeywell flirted with a no-hitter for six innings, Dickson (10-6) faced the minimum for five. When Bradenton started to square up against Honeywell in the fifth, pulling a pair of hard-hit lineouts, the Crabs only knocked Dickson off the minimum when Ramirez committed an error in the fifth.
Their first run came when Dickson finally made a mistake early in an inning and couldn't recover. The Stone Crabs' only hit in the first for the first five innings was a leadoff single by Palmetto High School's Granden Goetzman in the second and Dickson immediately erased the outfielder with a double play. Four innings later, Charlotte turned catcher Armando Araiza's leadoff single into the go-ahead run after a bunt, a groundout and an RBI single by second baseman Kean Wong.
Goetzman left the game in the fifth inning after fouling a bunt off into his face.
Dickson only allowed one more hit in his final two innings, although it was enough to knock the Marauders out of reach.
"There wasn't a feeling all night of, 'Maybe this could be a rough inning,'" Ryan said. "He made one mistake."
Araiza sent Dickson's 82nd pitch to the boardwalk beyond the left-field wall to double the Crabs' lead. Even when Dickson needed only four more pitches to get the final two outs, Ryan gave the ninth inning to relief pitcher Junior Lopez, who also allowed a solo home run.
So the Steranka single which drove in outfielder Austin Meadows left even less of a dent in the win which ended the Stone Crabs' 11-game losing streak. There wasn't much Bradenton could do against Honeywell and Hu. Instead, the Marauders struck a positive with Dickson.
"It was a great outing and why not be done with that and carry it into the next one?" Ryan said. "Throwing him in the ninth, maybe he gives up a couple runs and a good outing turns bad in his mind. Confidence is a dangerous thing and he's got great confidence going into his next start."