Tampa Bay Rays (41 days until pitchers and catchers report)
One spot on the roster that remains to be filled is left-handed relief pitcher. In Joe Maddon’s first two seasons as the manager of the Tampa Bay Rays, he broke camp without a left-hander in the bullpen. In 2008 the Rays are ready to switch from a position of development to one in which the emphasis is now on winning. If the Rays want to win more games they will need a LOOGY in the bullpen to come in, face one batter, and get out the tough lefty bat.

While the Rays will continue to look for a left-handed reliever in free agency and through trades, there are a few in-house candidates that Maddon could potentially turn to if all else fails. The list includes Jon Switzer, Jeff Ridgway and Kurt Birkins, all of whom have major league experience.

Bill Chastain thinks there is another option already in the organization.

I think it would make sense for Maddon to test some of those (starting) pitchers in the bullpen, in particular (J. P.) Howell, since the Rays need a left-handed reliever…Howell had several good opportunities at the Major League level last season and did not take advantage of them. He is a great teammate, in addition to being extremely competitive. I think he would give the Rays a nice extra wrinkle out of the bullpen.

Chastain points out that the Rays need a left-hander reliever that can get out left-handed batters. He thinks the Rays should convert Howell to a reliever to fill that role in 2008. And what exactly qualifies Howell for lefty-specialist? He is left-handed of course. And he is a good teammate that is competitive. No other qualifications are needed, like actually being able to get lefties out. Bill Chastain does not need to look up silly stats. He is from the school of thought that says left-handed pitchers have a natural magical power over left-handed batters.

As for Howell…In 2007, right-handed batters hit .325/.389/.880 against Howell, while left-handed batters produced a line of .296/.356/.874. Do you know how long it took me to look that up? 3.6 seconds. Chastain would like you to think that a player like Hideki Matsui would wilt under the pressure of having to face Howell in the 7th inning of a 1-run game with the bases loaded. The truth is, Howell does not get out left-handers any better than right-handers. In fact he does not get either out very well.

There are two scenarios under which Howell should be in the bullpen: 1) He is one of the seven best relief pitchers; 2) He is the best option for Maddon to call upon to come in and get out one left-handed bat. If Howell is converted to a reliever and makes the 25-man roster, it will be because he out-pitched the likes of Juan Salas, Gary Glover and Scott Dohmann. It will not be because “the Rays need a left-handed reliever” as Chastain mentions.

We are fairly certain that Papa Joe Maddon would prefer to have a left-handed specialist that can, you know, get out left-handed batters.

Mailbag: In-house bullpen solutions [DevilRays.com]


  • Rays of Light has their “Fearless 2008 Predictions”. A light-hearted look at the Tampa Bay Rays. I don’t think they are really going out on a limb with their Rocco Baldelli projection. [Rays of Light]
  • The Rays have re-signed infielder Brent Butler to a minor league contract. Butler hit .268-4-26 in 77 games for the Bulls last season. [Our Sports Central]


  1. Anonymous says:

    i know your point is about being the specialist, but i think Howell would make a great long reliever, as a change-of-pace pitcher.

    if Jackson gets knocked out in the 4th inning, it would be tough on another team to go from a 98mph pitcher to a 83mph pitcher for one time through the lineup.

  2. Sean G says:

    the numbers may not be great, but Howell is a better candidate than the others already on the team.


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