Screwballer Brent Honeywell does not lack for confidence. But as he's quick to point out, it's not conceit if you have the game to back it up. Right now, he's proving he has the game.
The Rays' top pitching prospect tossed a career-high seven hitless innings, striking out eight and leading Class A Bowling Green to an 8-3 win over visiting Fort Wayne on Sunday afternoon at Bowling Green Ballpark.
The 20-year-old right-hander is no stranger to these kinds of performances. He came within four outs of a no-hitter on April 22 against Dayton and followed that up with six innings of one-hit ball six days later against Great Lakes.
"That's what I strive for," Honeywell said of trying to throw the third no-hitter in Bowling Green history. "I strive to be a big league pitcher and I want to be the best one that there is. Every day I try to throw a no-hitter or a perfect game, and I think I'm going to end up getting one soon.
"I'm confident in my stuff that I could pitch in the big leagues today, 100 percent. You have to have some kind of confidence behind you. I'm not cocky, I'm confident. When you can locate a fastball and a changeup, the changeup is the best pitch in baseball. I'm pitching my game and having a good time. I'm staying within myself and making good pitches."
Honeywell (3-2) needed only 32 pitches the first time through the TinCaps lineup and was perfect through five innings after Jace Conrad's sliding catch in left field took a hit away from Chase Jensen in the fifth. He lost his perfect game when Henry Charles drew a leadoff walk in the sixth, but Fort Wayne's first baserunner was erased trying to steal second. In total, Honeywell faced the minimum over seven innings before turning things over to the bullpen.
Honeywell struck out two batters in the second and seventh and one each in the third, fourth, fifth and sixth. He also recorded twice as many outs through the air -- eight -- as he did on the ground.
"Today was the best I've played all year," he said. "Everything complemented my pitches. My fastball command was exceptional and I was throwing my fastball, curveball and screwball for strikes and keeping them off-balance. I didn't let them mess with my rhythm and I didn't let them draw me into deep counts. I pitched my game and really went after them.
"You always know when you have something like [a no-hitter] going. I just kept telling myself to make quality pitches. I had a lot of strikeouts looking, and that was a big factor in keeping them off-balance because it's tough to swing at pitches down in the zone when you're looking for something different. Everything went in my favor today. ... It's always good to have a day where everything is going right."
Honeywell came out in the eighth and the TinCaps quickly broke up both the no-hitter and the shutout. Duanel Jones doubled off the left-center fence against relievere Kyle Bird and Trae Santos followed with a two-run homer.
"I'm not here to throw no-hitters in the Midwest League," said Honeywell, who allowed two runs on five hits over a season-low three innings on Monday and surrendered three earned runs on seven hits -- both season highs -- on May 4 against Lake County. "They have one job for me and that is just to pitch. It wasn't my call. I knew I was done after the seventh.
"Of course, I want to come back out for the eighth, but they have one thing in store for me, and that's to get to the big leagues. They want to keep me healthy. My job is to throw the rock, not make the calls, and I'm completely fine with that."
The outing lowered Honeywell's ERA to 1.66, which ranks sixth in the league. He leads the circuit with 46 strikeouts, a .155 opponents' batting average and 0.71 WHIP. No starting pitcher in the league has allowed fewer baserunners per nine innings than the Georgia native, who was selected by the Rays in the second round of the 2014 Draft out of Walters State Community College in Tennessee.
Bird was charged with three runs on four hits and a walk while striking out two batters in one inning and Damion Carroll worked around a pair of ninth-inning hits to finish off the win.
Casey Gillaspie -- Tampa Bay's fifth-ranked prospect -- homered and drove in three runs, while Hunter Lockwood homered, tripled and contributed two RBIs.
Fort Wayne starter Ernesto Montas (2-3) allowed six runs -- four earned -- on eight hits and a walk with two strikeouts over six innings.