The gritty left-handed reliever experienced mixed results in 2011 after sitting out 2010 following shoulder surgery. Entering Friday night's action, Howell had not allowed a run over his last 12 outings dating back to June 14 and his current 14-inning scoreless streak is the longest by a Rays reliever this season.
"I don't even really know what I'm doing, I go off feel," Howell said. "I know what everything should feel like."
Howell had one prolonged good stretch in 2011, but he said this current stretch is the best he's felt since the surgery and it came on the heels of a stretch that saw him allow 11 runs in eight innings over 12 appearances from May 12 to June 13.
"I can put sequences together and I wasn't able to do that this whole time," Howell said. "I've had to pretty much beat the guy on talent. And that's really hard to do. My curveball, I'd just try and overmatch people and beat him to the spot rather than trying to make his body react certain ways and making the hitter do certain things."
In hindsight, Howell said he wasn't totally back when he thought he was in the past.
"If you get one good inning you think you're back," Howell said. "It came down to whether I was actually executing my pitches or not. And I wasn't. Whether I wasn't capable of it, or I just hadn't found it at the time, I'll never know. I don't know if I was able and just wasn't doing it, or just really not understanding my mechanics."
The mental component has been a challenging aspect for Howell to deal with as well.
"It's now about being consistent and mentally strong, which I wasn't," Howell said. "I've been mentally strong this year, but there have been times where I've been up and down. And if you want to be consistent, you can't do that.
"I knew I was kind of going into the boxing ring without a plan. And that's no fun. That's not me. I always have to have a plan and prepare. It was just kind of going in there naked. ... It's pretty much taken me about this long to understand where I'm at. And really get my emotions in check also."
Rays manager Joe Maddon said he had a lot of talks with Howell last year.
"It wasn't easy for him because he's always been successful," Maddon said. "And then to not be successful and not being able to get the feel he wanted or the results he was looking for, all those things are tough for an athlete.
"But I never stopped believing in him as a guy and as a competitor. He's going to keep getting better. As long as he stays healthy you're going to see him probably pitch at as good or better a level than he did in 2008."