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NORTH PORT — Brent Honeywell had much to be encouraged about after a successful and impressive 15-pitch live batting-practice session Saturday, his first time facing hitters since undergoing a fourth elbow procedure in December.
On the list: increased life on his fastball (clocked around 95 mph), better command of his secondary pitches, anticipated reactions from hitters, and how good he felt Sunday morning.
“A pretty big step forward,’' he said.
Once the Rays top pitching prospect, Honeywell has been sidelined since tearing an elbow ligament in his first live batting-practice session of spring 2018, leading to Tommy John surgery, and three additional procedures.
He is confident he is ready to come back, and Saturday’s session provided validation and confidence.
“The hop on the fastball was a little better, and the stuff was probably as crisp as it’s been in three years,’' Honeywell said. “And the reaction that I’m looking for is the reactions that I was getting back when I know that my stuff was really, really good. I was getting kind of the same reaction.’'
Also, he noted, was the support from his teammates, as many gathered to watch the Saturday morning session on a back field at the team complex. “That was awesome,’' he said. “That one hit me right in the heart a little bit.’'
Honeywell, who turns 26 on March 31, was throwing to hitters in October as a member of the postseason taxi squad and was, in his word, “serviceable.” But he said he is much improved now after the latest procedure provided more freedom of movement. Enough so that he feels he is ready to start pitching in spring games.
“I haven’t pitched in a game in three years,’' he said. “I feel like getting me in front of a guy with a different jersey on is pretty beneficial, and I feel like I can handle that right now.’'
Manager Kevin Cash said the staff also was excited by Honeywell’s performance, but it remained “pretty unlikely” he would pitch in exhibition games, which end March 30. “We’ll probably just have to revisit it here down at the end of spring, but he’s still got plenty of boxes to check,’' Cash said.
Phillips has hamstring issue
Outfielder Brett Phillips, World Series Game 4 star and Seminole native, tweaked his left hamstring running the bases in the second inning Sunday against the Braves and left the game. Cash said they will know more Monday about the severity. “He’s frustrated,’' Cash said. “He said he worked so hard this offseason to kind of do hamstring maintenance stuff, and it crept up. ... If he feels better (Monday), there’s probably not a major reason for concern. If he’s sore, then we’re going to have to take a little bit of a deeper look.’'
Game details: Braves 8, Rays 7
Nonroster reliever Stetson Allie impressed using his fastball and, more importantly, his slider to strike out Braves A-listers Freddie Freeman and Marcell Ozuna and get Travis d’Arnaud on a ground out in nine-pitch inning, all strikes. “Encouraging,’' Cash said. … The Rays (4-9) took a 7-5 lead into the ninth, but Tyler Zombro allowed a one-out walk, a single and a walkoff homer to Ehire Adrianza in the 8-7 loss. … Minor-leaguers Miles Mastrobuoni, Dalton Kelly and Moises Gomez came off the bench and homered for the Rays. … High-leverage relievers Diego Castillo and Nick Anderson had solid one-inning outings. … Minor-league outfielder Nathan Lukes had a diving catch in right. … Prospect Drew Strotman started, allowing two one-out singles, then getting a double play.