Howell, 25, has thrived in his new role, posting a 5-0 record with a 3.38 ERA and one save in 24 appearances. Excluding the five-run outing against Texas on May 27 when Howell surrendered a grand slam to Josh Hamilton, the left-hander has posted a 1.21 ERA since May 8 (13 games), while going 5-0.
Howell, who was 2-9 in 18 career starts with the Rays, said he hasn't been surprised by the results in his new role.
"It's a different role and, it's more, I don't want to say more attainable, but it fits me a lot better," Howell said. "I knew a couple of years ago I might do better [in this role]. I don't know where it's going or how it's going to end up. I had a lot of help, too. A lot of things come in to play that definitely helped me."
Howell continues to employ four pitches: fastball, changeup, cutter and curve. Having four pitches comes in handy the more times he faces the same team.
"When you've faced guys a few times you can see them sitting on a pitch, and it's good if I haven't shown them any of the other ones yet," Howell said. "So, I can spread them out for the whole year. The main thing is remembering what I threw these guys in their last at-bat."
Howell has pitched so well that projecting his being used in the eighth or ninth inning looks like a realistic possibility.
"I'm not afraid of using J.P. anywhere," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Absolutely you can see him deeper into the game. It's just about getting him up and getting his rest in between [uses]."
Howell would be happy to fill any role, but he's not pushing to be used late in the game.
"Just let things play out right now," Howell said. "It's good pitching the sixth and seventh, or whatever, and let [Dan] Wheeler and [Troy Percival] just kill them in the end. It's been working out pretty well so far."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less