ST. PETERSBURG — The last time Brent Honeywell Jr. pitched in a Minor League game was on Sept. 19, 2017, when he picked up the win for the Durham Bulls in the Triple-A national championship game. Four elbow surgeries and exactly 1,300 days later, Honeywell scaled the mound at Tropicana Field for his Major League debut.
Once one of baseball’s top pitching prospects, Honeywell immediately showed why the Rays remain so excited about what he can do. The right-hander retired all six Yankees hitters he faced and struck out two in his debut outing as an opener for Tampa Bay during a 10-inning, 8-4 loss on Sunday afternoon.
In need of pitching depth after Chris Archer landed on the 10-day injured list with right lateral forearm tightness, Tampa Bay called up Honeywell after its 4-0 win over the Yankees on Saturday. Sunday was Honeywell’s turn to start at the alternate training site in Port Charlotte, Fla., so the Rays slotted him in front of veteran right-hander Michael Wacha in their series finale.
Honeywell showed no sign of nerves, throwing 21 pitches across his two innings. His fastball touched 95 mph, which is what Tampa Bay saw in Spring Training. He used his changeup as his primary offspeed pitch and appeared to work in one screwball, which Aaron Hicks rolled over for the final out of the first inning.
Of course, it was hardly a surprise to anyone in Tampa Bay’s dugout that Honeywell appeared so composed. Starter Tyler Glasnow described Honeywell as “the most genuinely confident person I’ve ever met,” and that might be putting it mildly.
“Oh, he’s got confidence, that’s for sure. You better have confidence like he does to get through what he has,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said before the game. “That’s a credit to him. At any moment, there could have been times where he really kind of derailed himself in the rehab process. But I think it’s that confidence and that belief in himself to be a really good pitcher for us [that] kind of got him through a lot of those low moments throughout his rehab.”
Honeywell endured four operations on his right arm between meaningful competitive outings, starting with Tommy John surgery on Feb. 27, 2018. Then came another elbow surgery on June 9, 2019, a decompression procedure on his right ulnar nerve last May and finally arthroscopic surgery on Dec. 16. It was the last surgery that seemed to help Honeywell return to normal, as he and Cash both said Honeywell wasn’t quite this sharp when he pitched in the Rays’ postseason bubble last year.
It was certainly sharp on Sunday as Honeywell faced the Yankees with his father in the stands and a bunch of teammates in the dugout, all of them thrilled to witness Honeywell’s long-awaited debut.
“His stuff … he said he was nastier than the way he pitched in 2017. For him to say that, that’s a big thing,” said shortstop Willy Adames, who was in the lineup for Honeywell’s last Triple-A outing and his debut on Sunday. “And that makes me feel confident about him, because he feels great. I think he’s going to be good. That’s just the way he is. He’s going to do his thing. I’m really confident about him.”