Replacing Howell won't be easy on Rays

Replacing Howell won't be easy on Rays

NEW YORK -- Now that J.P. Howell is officially lost for the season, the Rays on Wednesday spoke about not having the popular left-hander and how they will go forward.

During Spring Training, the rest of the relief corps maintained they would try and step up to fill the huge gap left by the absence of their veteran teammate. To date, the bullpen members have done a pretty nice job of following through on their intentions. So what happens now that they know he won't be back this year?

"I think you just go on doing what you've been doing so far this year," said Randy Choate, the lone left-hander in the Rays' bullpen. "It's really unfortunate -- you can't replace a guy like J.P. I know it's a cliche and that's what everybody's going to say, but obviously, he's probably been the best reliever here the last two years. Losing him is a major loss for us. But we can't sit around and cry about that or worry."

Choate's thoughts turned to well wishes for Howell.

"I hope [the surgery] was successful, which I heard it was," Choate said. "I hope it's a speedy recovery for him. And we just kind of have to move on without him pitching this season. He's still going to be in the clubhouse. He's still going to be around. He's still going to keep everybody loose. He's going to keep that good J.P. attitude that he has. It's just really unfortunate and something you kind of have to deal with and move on."

Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman spoke about what Howell means to the team.

"He's very much an integral part of the team on and off the field," Friedman said. "He'll still be around. It's not something where he's going to be in Siberia on his rehab. He's going to be with us. And he's still very much a part of this team and the fabric of what we're about. We'll just have to wait until next year for him to contribute on the field."

Friedman said Howell's surgery wasn't a big surprise, so the front office acted accordingly in its approach to putting together this year's bullpen.

"In our minds, we were approaching it like he wouldn't be back," Friedman said. "If he was, obviously, it would be a huge boost. We approached it from that vantage point. We've got a lot of guys who are doing really well in the bullpen. But our mentality is to always look for ways to possibly improve. But we have a lot of confidence in the seven guys we have right now."

Rays manager Joe Maddon complimented the job the bullpen has done to this point in the season.

"A lot of times I believe that when you're missing a key component, other folks are going to step up and exceed your expectations," Maddon said. "You look at what our bullpen's done so far, and there are no complaints.

"And furthermore, more recently, Andy Sonnanstine is throwing the ball well. And Joaquin Benoit has come up here and thrown the ball well, too. You add those two into the mix on a more consistent basis, that's going to help the rest of the group. So we don't have J.P., but the other guys have been doing a fabulous job."