Honeywell back after 4 surgeries, 3 1/2 years

March 22nd, 2021

It had been 1,281 days since last scaled the mound and stared down a hitter wearing a jersey different than his own. Three and a half years. Four surgeries on his right elbow. So many moments that might have broken his spirit or wrecked his confidence, if only he'd let them.

But Honeywell's belief in himself never wavered, and he never stopped working toward his goal of being a successful Major League starting pitcher. It all felt a little more real on Monday afternoon, when Honeywell started and pitched one inning in the Rays' 10-4 loss to the Red Sox at Charlotte Sports Park.

"I knew, even from the first day I went down, I was going to get here one way or the other," Honeywell said. "I'm still going to do what I got to do to be the best I can be and try to be the best pitcher in the game here soon. That's just who I am, and that's what I want to do."

Honeywell gave up one run on one hit and one walk, but his pitching line hardly mattered. That wasn't the point. It was Honeywell's first time facing anyone other than his teammates since Sept. 19, 2017, when he came out of the Durham Bulls' bullpen to work 2 2/3 innings in the Triple-A national championship game.

Back then, Honeywell was knocking on the door of the Majors as one of the best pitching prospects in baseball. For all that he's been through since then, the 25-year-old right-hander remains "one of the most exciting pitchers we've got in the organization," Rays shortstop Willy Adames said. Adames would know as well as anyone; he was there the last time Honeywell pitched in a game, and he started behind him on Monday.

Even though it wasn't the 1-2-3 inning Honeywell said he wanted, the way he pitched was encouraging. His fastball touched 95 mph. His slider was effective, for the most part, and his changeup looked like the legitimate weapon it was before. Honeywell has been healthy enough to pitch before, including last fall when he was a part of the Rays' postseason player pool, but he said he hasn't felt this good in a long time.

Honeywell said there is "no doubt" in his mind that he can pitch in the big leagues this year, noting that he feels "light years" ahead of where he was two or three years ago. The rest of the Rays see it, too.

"There's no way he could have done it without the mentality that he has. One of the surgeries, you can remain confident. Two, most people start to waver. And anything more than that, a lot of people would have just given up," Rays starter Chris Archer said. "But Brent Honeywell, his heart is a baseball. That's all he wants to do with his life. So there was no way he was going to give up. He was going to go down swinging, and I'm glad he's fought so hard to get where he's at."

Second baseman Brandon Lowe, who previously faced Honeywell in batting practice, said his stuff looks "electric." Starter Tyler Glasnow said he's "back to what he was before" and "can contribute right now, in my opinion." It won't happen right away, as Honeywell has already been optioned to Minor League camp, but he could pitch for the Rays at some point this season.

"With that type of stuff, the more fine-tuning and the more he can get built up and stretched out, it's easy to envision scenarios where he is a part of our mix in the not-so-distant future," manager Kevin Cash said. "He doesn't look like a rehab pitcher. He's a healthy pitcher, and that's got to be awesome for Brent."

Honeywell said he tried to make the day feel as normal as possible. When he reported to the ballpark, he followed the same pregame routine he did four years ago. He told himself to control his emotions, but it was hard to hide how much this day meant.

Posted inside the Rays' clubhouse was a photo of a beehive with "#HONEYDAY" printed below it. Tampa Bay players and staff stuck around for the game, pressing pause on their routines to sit in the stands as a show of support. Honeywell's grandparents, parents and younger brother made the trip to watch him pitch.

"I know they were happy to be in the seats, so that probably meant the most," Honeywell said. "I'm happy they came down, especially for one inning. Long trip for one inning."

Honeywell never lost his confidence, but he admitted the redundant rehabilitation process often grew tiresome. Teammates describe Honeywell as a baseball junkie, one of several attributes -- along with his energy and confidence -- that make him such a popular teammate. Glasnow said Honeywell's passion for the game and his teammates made him somewhat of a leader in the clubhouse during the Rays' postseason run last October, even though he wasn't on the active roster.

"Competition and being competitive, having that back is the best thing. Every fifth day, man. Every fifth day is the best day of my life," Honeywell said. "I look forward to being in this game for a long time, and I can't do it without those guys. You know, they made it easier on me for keeping the dark days away, and I can't thank them enough for that."

Honeywell said he got goosebumps when he was warming up in the bullpen and after the national anthem played. Everyone watching him couldn't help but reflect back on all he'd overcome just to pitch in a game again, but the 1,280-day journey wasn't on his mind when he finally took the mound.

"Not today," Honeywell said. "I've had three years to do that."