ST. PETERSBURG -- J.P. Howell returned to the Rays this season on May 20 after missing all of the 2010 season following left shoulder surgery.
The 28-year-old left-hander made 46 appearances this season with mixed results, finishing 2-3 with a 6.16 ERA. Howell's record in itself might prompt some to question why Rays manager Joe Maddon opted to put him on the 25-man roster for the postseason. When asked what he thinks he can get out of Howell during the playoffs, Maddon answered: "He's kind of a situational Randy Choate kind of guy right now."
As for what Howell's main problem has been, Maddon didn't hesitate in responding.
"Feel, just feel," Maddon said. "The fastball off the front hip of the righty coming over the plate. The changeup has been up a little bit this year, too. His changeup is normally a really good pitch. It's been up. His curveball still seems to be pretty good. Pretty consistent. Fastball he's actually throwing harder than he used to. Which I think is a good thing. But I don't know if he has the feel for that fastball coming back off the hip of the right-handed hitter. I don't see that.
While Howell clearly is not back to his 2008-09 form, he's enjoyed some success this season, which isn't reflected in the overall numbers. He put together a stretch of 24 appearances from July 2-Sept. 7 in which he held opponents to a .148 average. He did have a couple of hiccups in September, but he's amped for the playoffs.
"I feel great," Howell said. "Now it's just a matter of piecing it together to be perfect, more perfect. There are things the home run, I gave up a [Matt] Wieters home run, and then a [Robinson] Cano double, that can't happen. It can be singles and you can live with that. But doubles and extra-base hits, and stuff like that, it's tough to swallow.
"[This season has] come down to inches. It's actually been a good season for me. The numbers don't look too good, but I had a really good run late. And that's what I was looking for."