Brent Honeywell did all he was asked to in a specactular six innings of work for the Durham Bulls Sunday.
The right-hander left without allowing a run and his Bulls leading by two runs. Normally this season, that pretty much guarantees a win.
But for only the fourth time in 66 occurances this season, Durham lost a game it led after six innings. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre scored twice in the seventh to tie the game and took the lead on Ji-Man Choi’s two-run home run in the ninth inning to post a 4-2 win before a crowd of 9,008 at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Honeywell posted his second consecutive scoreless start, allowing only two fourth-inning hits while striking out five with no walks. He did so on 70 pitches, with 52 of them strikes. His efficiency would have allowed him to pitch another two innings.
But the parent Tampa Bay Rays’ needs superceded those of their Triple-A affiliate.
“He knows what’s going on,” Bulls manager Jared Sandberg said. “He knows it’s innings management. There is a bigger picture here.”
That bigger picture includes the fact that Tampa Bay remains firmly in the running for an American League playoff berth. Honeywell could be needed in September when the big-league rosters are expanded. So it’s better to save him an inning or two Sunday in an International League game.
“There's always a reason for something like that, whether it is behind the scenes or them wanting to watch innings or wanting to watch pitches,” Honeywell said. “They do a pretty good job with it. I know what time of the year it is. They are trying to be careful with some guys.”
The Bulls gave Honeywell a 2-0 lead in the fifth inning. Jake Bauers reached on first baseman Tyler Austin’s error when Austin failed to cleanly field a ground ball. Bauer stole second base and, with two outs, scored on Taylor Featherston’s single to right field. Featherston took second on the throw home and scored on a Jake Hager single for a 2-0 Durham lead.
After Honeywell departed, Choi’s two-out, two-run double in the seventh off Bulls reliever Adam Kolarek tied the score at 2-2.
In the top of the ninth, the left-hand batting Choi lofted a fly ball down the left field line with one on and one out against Durham’s Chaz Roe. The ball was fair by a few feet as it cleared the wall for the game-winning home run.
Firmly in control of the IL South Division despite the loss, Durham (73-47) embarks on a six-game road swing through Syracuse and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre holding a 13-game lead over second-place Gwinnnett. Durham’s magic number to clinch the division is 10.
The Bulls return home Aug. 21 to begin a four-game series with Gwinnett.