By Josh Vitale, SunCoast Sports
PORT CHARLOTTE — Every Honey Day at Charlotte Sports Park could be the last.
Well, at least until Brent Honeywell is inevitably added to the 40-man roster and starts pitching here during big-league spring training.
Until then, the Rays’ No. 2 prospect has accomplished just about all he can in High-A.
Last year, he threw a nine-inning complete-game shutout and started the deciding game of the Charlotte Stone Crabs’ Florida State League championship victory. This season, he’s only allowed five runs (four earned) over six starts.
Four of those six runs crossed the plate over his previous two starts, easily his worst of the year. And even with them, Honeywell has allowed only 24 hits and has struck out 40 batters over 36 2⁄3 innings — both league-best marks — while pitching to a sterling 0.98 ERA.
So when you see the 21-year-old right-hander strike out nine over 6 1⁄3 innings of one-run ball in an 3-1 win over the Jupiter Hammerheads, you wonder just long he has left before the Rays decide to promote him to Double-A.
“It’s hard to get much better than that,” manager Michael Johns said. “Even he would say he had every pitch working tonight.”
He did. Honeywell, who threw 61 of his 88 pitches for strikes, said the command of his fastball and life of his screwball was the best it’s been all season.
The Hammerheads might agree. They only mustered four hits while the right-hander was in the game, and three of them didn’t result in anything more than stranded baserunners.
The only hit that did any damage was a sixth-inning solo home run off the bat of K.J. Woods — the first Honeywell had allowed this season — on the one fastball the pitcher said he left up in the zone.
“I found a lot of stuff that wasn’t there through the first few starts,” said Honeywell, who improved to 3-0 on the season. “I could have shook to anything. I even got a punchout with a curveball. That’s how good that start was.”
Jace Conrad staked his starter an early lead with an RBI single in the second, and Alec Sole and Mac James, Honeywell’s catcher, tripled it with a run-scoring double and base hit, respectively, in the third off Jupiter starter Dillon Peters, who allowed four hits while striking out four over six innings.
And as it has been throughout a season-long four-game win streak, that was more than enough for the Charlotte pitching staff.
Right-hander Mike Franco, making his first appearance since April 21 due to an oblique injury, loaded the bases but stranded all three runners after relieving Honeywell with one out in the seventh.
Right-hander Neil Wagner, making his first regular-season appearance since Aug. 7, 2014 after undergoing Tommy John surgery that same month, pitched a perfect eighth inning while dialing up his fastball to as high as 95 mph on the stadium radar gun.
Left-hander Kyle Bird, making his team-high ninth appearance of the season, ran his scoreless-inning streak to 15 as he recorded his third save of the year.
But there’s little doubt all three of those relievers will make their next appearances with Charlotte. Honeywell, on the other hand, might have already reached the point where how long he remains with the Stone Crabs is decided is on a start-by-start basis.
“I feel like I’m ready for anything they can throw at me,” Honeywell said. “I love pitching here, but that being said, I think I can pitch in Double-A. I think I can pitch in Triple-A. Especially with the stuff I have right now.”
It should be only a matter of time.
STONE CRABS 3, HAMMERHEADS 1
HITTER OF THE GAME
Mac James, Stone Crabs: The catcher played a role in two of Charlotte’s three runs, walking and scoring in the second and hitting an RBI single in the third. He finished 2-for-3.
PITCHER OF THE GAME
Brent Honeywell, Stone Crabs: The right-hander had what might have been his best start in a season full of them, allowing only one run on four hits while striking out nine over 6 1/3 innings.
Seventh: The Hammerheads threatened to erase the Stone Crabs’ two-run lead when they loaded the bases with one out against Mike Franco, but the right-hander settled in to strand all three runners.
THEY SAID IT
Right-hander Brent Honeywell: “Tonight I just kind of went out and pitched unconscious. I wasn’t worrying about the outcome of the pitch I threw. Pitch-selection wasn’t an issue. I was in the strike zone all night.”