Howell, who missed all of the 2010 season after left-shoulder surgery, made 46 appearances this season with mixed results, finishing with a 2-3 record and a 6.16 ERA. The 28-year-old left-hander did put together a stretch of 24 appearances from July 2-Sept 7 when he held opponents to a .148 average. Then, he endured a tough stretch at the end of the season -- when he surrendered a key home run to Matt Wieters in a loss to Baltimore and a game-changing double to Robinson Cano in a doubleheader loss to the Yankees.
"I really thought he was coming along well," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "His last two hits have been against two pretty good hitters -- Robinson Cano and Josh Hamilton -- two pretty good hitters."
Maddon told reporters that he looked for Howell after Monday night's loss, with no success, "just to pick him up a little bit."
"A ball just finds a hole, right there," Maddon said. "And it's unfortunate, because the reason we chose him for this team was for that particular moment with Hamilton, and also on his work to left-handers in general. I have a lot of faith in this guy, I always have. He's been a big part of our past, I hope he's a big part of our future, too. I didn't see [using him in that situation] as a big reach.
"Physically, he's been fine. And, you know, if you show somebody some confidence, sometimes you'll get rewarded for it, too. Listen, it's a base hit there [on Monday]. It's not even about that. A couple of walks before that, a couple of stolen bases before that. It's about us having chances to score runs and that moment goes away. It's not just about J.P. by any means."
Howell got booed when he entered the game and booed when he left, which Maddon called "wrong."
"I don't understand why the folks would have gone there [on Monday]," Maddon said. "It's inappropriate. Here's a guy who was a big part of our World Series run. He's coming off a severe injury and he's done some really good work this year -- particularly against left-handers. He's given up a couple of homers. That's why the numbers are so high. He has not been as bad as he seems. But that was the right moment for him, that situation against Hamilton."
Maddon believes Howell has the necessary makeup to overcome his recent adversity.
"Absolutely," Maddon said. "I know he does. The thing I like, he didn't walk anybody. He went after them. He's actually stronger than he had been. I still think feel is not part of it yet, and it will be. But again, to lay all of that on J.P. ... is absolutely absurd, as far as I'm concerned. He gave up one hit, he made a pitch, the guy finds a hole. We could have done a lot of other things and that would have been an innocuous moment in [Monday's] game."
When asked if he would use Howell, if needed, in Game 4, Maddon replied: "I'll talk to him. It's that time of the year where everybody may have to help."