Screw­ball-throw­ing Honey­well prefers low pro­file

USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - MINOR LEAGUES - News and notes by Ray Glier

For 30 min­utes in the late af­ter­noon of July 9, Brent Honey­well was the big­gest thing in or­bit around base­ball. The Durham Bulls right-han­der struck out four in two in­nings in the All-Star Fu­tures Game in Mi­ami, but it was not just the re­sult that cap­tured imag­i­na­tions, it was the al­lure of his pitch.

Honey­well fea­tured the al­most mytho­log­i­cal pitch of yes­ter­year, the screw­ball, and it be­fud­dled as­cen­dant stars on the World team. The In­ter­net buzzed over the coun­try boy from Car­nesville, Ga., who struck out New York Mets No. 1 prospect Amed Rosario, Toronto Blue Jays No. 1 prospect Vladimir Guer­rero Jr. and then-Chicago Cubs No. 1 prospect Eloy Jimenez.

Rosario, who has since been called up to the big leagues, swung over the 79-mph screw­ball, a slow curve from a right-han­der into a right-han­der. The ball just dis­ap­peared from Rosario’s sight and un­der­neath his bat.

It was a party for Honey­well with a Ga­torade shower and the MVP award ... and then it was over. He was back to busi­ness.

The 22-year old with five pitches — “five fin­gers, five pitches,” he says — re­fused to be a sen­sa­tion past that day.

He said he kept his nose out of so­cial me­dia and did not want that fling with glory to go too far.

“I got one job to do, and that’s to get to the big leagues, and I’m not go­ing to get to the big leagues think­ing about what peo­ple think I did in the Fu­tures Game,” said the Tampa Bay Rays’ top prospect, ac­cord­ing to MLB.com.

Honey­well (11-7) is on a mag­nif­i­cent seven-week roll but first he had to over­come a three-game down­turn in starts on June 19, June 24, and June 29 dur­ing which he gave up 12 earned runs in 13 2⁄3 in­nings.

“I wasn’t lo­cat­ing the fast­ball very good at that time,” Honey­well said. “That was prob­a­bly the worst time in my ca­reer throw­ing fast­balls. I wasn’t throw­ing the pitch off the next one. I just wasn’t mak­ing good pitches at all.”

In eight starts since then, Hon- ey­well has given up eight earned runs in 44 2⁄3 in­nings (1.62 ERA). Through his Aug. 19 start, Honey­well was tied for the In­ter­na­tional League strike­out lead (147).

“Once I kind of busted out of the slump, it was night and day,” he said. “I was locked in. It’s never fun get­ting hit. It’s never fun watch­ing guys run around bases. I told my­self I had to fig­ure out some­thing, do some­thing.”

There are a cou­ple of no­ta­bles about Honey­well’s run. One, it is steamy in August, but he looks strong. Be­ware the pitcher who looks strong in the dog days, he said.

“You train for this time, you train in the off­sea­son for this time,” Honey­well said. “You train not to have a breakdown. I can phys­i­cally han­dle what­ever they want to throw at me. This is where you see the really, really good guys stand out. You’ve got to stand out this time. Those are the guys you have to keep an eye on.”

Two, Honey­well is in a groove with those five pitches — fast­ball, curve­ball, slider, changeup and that screw­ball. He throws only about 25 warm-up pitches be­fore a game, and he leaves the bullpen with a feel of what he has and doesn’t have that night.

Honey­well says his best pitch is his changeup be­cause it is a faster ver­sion of the screw­ball, a re­verse ac­tion. The for­mer has the re­quired 10-mph dif­fer­ence in speed be­tween a fast­ball (94) and changeup (84), and the screw­ball has a bend to the right at 79 mph.

Honey­well is from Franklin County, Ga., home of Ty Cobb. Is Franklin County about to have an­other ma­jor lea­guer in Septem­ber? Per­haps, but don’t tell Honey­well. He’s too busy try­ing to get there.

“I was about as close as you can cry with­out cry­ing.” — Min­nesota Twins pitcher Aaron Slegers, after pitch­ing 61⁄ in­nings and giv­ing up two runs in his ma­jor 3 league de­but Aug. 18. Slegers was 13-4 for the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings be­fore his de­but.

BRIAN WESTERHOLT, AP

“I got one job to do, and that’s to get to the big leagues,” says Rays prospect Brent Honey­well, who gar­nered at­ten­tion for his screw­ball and his suc­cess against elite hit­ting prospects at the All-Star Fu­tures Game.

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