DURHAM, N.C.—Brent Honeywell is nocturnal by nature. He typically goes to bed well past midnight, and rises no earlier than 10:45 a.m.
So when he had to make a 10:35 a.m. start on Thursday morning for Triple-A Durham, it was unfamiliar territory for the Rays No. 2 prospect.
"I woke up at 7:30 and made sure I got outside and walked around," Honeywell said. "This was my first 10:35 game. I didn't really know how to get ready for it. I got here I look up and it’s gametime."
As foreign as the early start time may have been, it did nothing to deter Honeywell from his usual dominance.
The 22-year-old righthander pitched six innings, gave up two earned runs, walked none and struck out 10 in a 3-1 loss to Columbus (Indians), his sharpest outing in five starts with Durham since he was brought up from Double-A Montgomery.
Honeywell threw 70 of his 98 pitches for strikes. Though he gave up eight hits, all were singles and all but two were routinely hit balls that just found a hole.
"He's got tremendous stuff and he's one of the fiercest competitors I've ever known to be on the mound," Durham manager Jared Sandberg said. "He wants to win every pitch, every inning, every at-bat. It's unbelievable."
Honeywell sat 94-96 mph with his fastball early before settling in at 92-93. His famous screwball was at its best, dancing and dropping in the upper-70s and getting awkward swings and misses throughout. His low-80s changeup drew every bit as many off-balance swings, and was arguably his most effective pitch early. To top it off he unleashed a swing-and-miss mid-80s slider in the middle innings and flashed a mid-70s curveball.
"When he's got five pitches and they're all in my mind plus, it's going to be hard to get hits off of him," said Durham catcher Curt Casali, a veteran of three big league seasons. "You can't really sit on anything. He's got all of his miles per hour and all of his velos down to a science pretty much, all the way down from 96 to his curveball at 75. It's hard to catch up to the fastball when you're sitting on soft and it's hard to adjust to the softness when you're sitting on a hard 96. It's fun to catch."
Honeywell ran into trouble in the sixth when his infield defense committed two errors behind him, but he still made it through to finish with a quality start.
His performance could not have come at a better time. Durham played 11 innings on Wednesday night and had three different position players pitch because its bullpen was so gassed. The Bulls gave up 10 runs in the top of the 11th with their pitching staff out of arms.
Playing less than 12 hours later and in desperate need of a long outing from their starter, Honeywell delivered.
"The main focal point of me coming into today's game was giving our bullpen a blow," Honeywell said. "Just let 'em try and relax. I was on a good run until the sixth inning hit me. Really wanted to give our bullpen a little rest time."
Honeywell's pitch efficiency was in prime form in pursuit of that goal. He was at 66 pitches through five innings before the two errors in the sixth forced him to throw extra pitches in his final inning and run his pitch count up.
When in doubt, he was able to unleash his screwball to get out of mostly any jam.
"It's a really cool pitch," Casali said. "It really amazes me every time I see it. Just how funky the spin is. When it gets going, hitters have a hard time with it as you saw today."
Honeywell may have entered the day unsure how to deal with an early-morning start. By the end of it, it was clear that unfamiliarity would never put a damper on his prime stuff.
"Swing and miss stuff was there, he was in total control, good command of all of his pitches, when he needed to make some pitches he made some pitches," Sandberg said. "His stuff was very, very impressive."
NEWS AND NOTES
Willy Adames, the Rays No. 1 prospect, powered a solo home run the opposite way to right-center for his second longball of the season. He finished 2-for-4 and has a hit in seven of his last nine games to raise his average to .228. Sandberg said the improvement has come with a slight change to Adames' setup at the plate.
"We narrowed his stance a little bit," Sandberg said. "Basically what was happening was he was too wide and it was causing him to overstride. Too much movement. Just trying to simplify a little bit."
Bradley Zimmer, the Indians No. 2 prospect, went 2-for-4 with two singles up the middle for Columbus. He also struck out swinging twice against Honeywell.
Durham righthander Ryne Stanek, the Rays No. 13 prospect, pitched a perfect ninth inning with two strikeouts. He blew away hitters with a 98-99 mph fastball and 91-92 mph slider.
"Ridiculous," Sandberg said. "Fastball command, hard slider, that's back end of the game, swing-and-miss stuff. His whole thing is fastball command and he's creating good angle down in the zone and pumping strikes. He's well on his way to advancing to the next level. He's ready for the next level"
Lefthander Ryan Merritt, the Indians No. 22 prospect and last year's ALCS Game 5 hero, started for Columbus and pitched 6.1 innings, gave up seven hits and one run, walked two and struck out seven. Merritt sat just 84-87 mph with his fastball and with a 79-80 mph changeup and 72-74 mph curveball, but hit all his spots with all his pitches and mixed well to keep Durham hitters off-balance.