From the dugout, Brent Honeywell felt confident his team was going to win Game 1 of the Florida State League Championship.
He watched teammate Chih-Wei Hu spin an eight-inning shutout, a career performance, that when all was said and done, gave the Charlotte Stone Crabs a 1-0 win over the Daytona Tortugas to open the best-of-five series.
"He was in attack mode all night," Honeywell said of Hu after Thursday's game. "I told Doc that run could be the winner, and it was."
"Doc" is Steve ‘Doc' Watson, the Stone Crabs pitching coach, who Honeywell credits for much of his progress this season, on the mound and off.
"He's by far one of the best pitching coaches I've ever had. He gives me a different outlook. He's getting me on track to pick out more good things. He's pushing me in the right direction," he said.
The role of a pitching coach can be tricky at the minor league level, with the big club making the decisions, and sending word down about how they want things done. But they also have to take their own approach, working with a unique plan for each player, all with different personalities and maturity level. At the same time, they're sticking with the ‘Team Way', maneuvering within the parameters. Keeping things loose goes a long way to communicating with young players in the early stages of development, and according to Honeywell, "Doc" just knows how to reach his players.
"He makes a lot of stuff seem easy. He explains things very simple. He makes the game fun in the dugout. That's another reason I'm able to pick stuff up from him," Honeywell said.
The Rays 2014 second round pick out of Walters State (Tennessee) began 2015 with the Class-A Bowling Green Hot Rods, making twelve starts and finishing with a 2.91/1.00 ERA/WHIP in 65 innings of work. He joined the Stone Crabs in the second half of the team's run, as they came off a 45-25 first half and clinched the division. The team struggled hard in the last few weeks of the season, and entering the divisional series of the playoffs, they sure needed to play stronger quickly. In Honeywell's last start of the regular season he pitched seven innings, allowing just 1 run on 3 hits, and struck out 6.
Earlier this year, he emphasized developing his curveball, and by August he said it was a pitch he was getting more comfortable with. Now he talks about maturing and being able to achieve the elusive task of "slowing the game down."
"I've grown. Off the field, I'm still a little kid," he'd said with a laugh. "But I'm slowing the game down in tough situations."
In the early part of their careers, minor league players often talk about the difficulty of adapting to a long season, and all that's expected. Physically and mentally, it can begin to wear on them, particularly down the stretch. When asked about "feeling it" as the playoffs push began, Honeywell said he was prepared.
"If you train for a long season. You will be fine. It starts in the off season. Now it's time to go really hard. I mean we are playing the Florida State League World Series. Guys want to hit and want to pitch so I don't think anyone is "feeling it". This is a fun group to be in that situation with," he said.
On Friday, the Stone Crabs took a 2-0 lead in the series, behind another outstanding start, this time from Buddy Borden (7 IP 1 R 2 H 1 BB 6 K's). Honeywell confirmed that he's scheduled to pitch Sunday, but that may not be necessary. No matter what, the 2015 season has taught the twenty-year-old a lot about persevering.
"I've been through growing pains and that's what I have progressed through."
Tonight, Brent Honeywell takes the mound in Game 4 of the Florida State League championship series for the Port Charlotte Stone Crabs.