Live from Port Charlotte: Afternoon update on Howell's status
LHP J.P. Howell looks good and feels great, but the Rays have put the brakes on his hopes for a speedy return from last May's shoulder surgery. Under the revised plan, Howell is projected to return to the Rays sometime in early May, and as a result is not likely to pitch in any spring exhibitions, instead making a series of minor-league rehab appearances in April.
"He's doing really well,'' manager Joe Maddon said. "It's just a matter with this particular surgery to see it all the way through time wise and really let biology work. So inspite of him feeling really good and chomping at the bit, we're still going to be very carelful.''
Howell put on about 30 pounds of muscle - up to about 196 - which he thinks will reduce strain on his shoulder and could even increase his velocity. Maddon agreed with the first part, and wasn't sure about the second part, especially since Howell's past success wasn't from throwing hard but with deception and movement. "He's a big part of us, and he helped get us over the hump in a big way,'' Maddon said. "And I'm really looking forward to him coming back because he is such a weapon out of the bullpen, here's a guy lefthanded that gets lefties and the good righties out too, not just righties he gets the good righties out. It will be great to get him back.''
* RHP Juan Cruz, a veteran signed to a minor-league deal, was the only one of the 38 pitchers and catchers who didn't show up, and likely won't until Friday due to visa issues in his native Dominican Republic.
* Maddon was enthused that Manny Ramirez showed up early, by five days, though he didn't stay to work out. "Love it,'' he said. "Absolutely love it. ... Definitely makes a statement that he was here today.'' Maddon said Ramirez may come out to hit on Thursday.
* Among others, Maddon was impressed by RHP Chris Archer, the top prospect acquired from the Cubs in the Matt Garza trade. "A really bright well-spoken young man, I really enjoy that part of him,'' Maddon said. And he was intrigued by LHP Cesar Cabral, the Rule 5 pick from Boston. "Kind of an interesting fellow,'' he said.
* LHP David Price said his success last season only makes him hungry for more this year, and he has his sights set high. "It's not just about the American League, I want to be the best pitcher in baseball, period,'' he said. "If you're the best pitcher in baseball, you're the best pitcher in the world. I feel like that's something you can smile about.''