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Tampa Bay Rays reliever J.P. Howell strong in World Baseball Classic exhibition game

DUNEDIN — J.P. Howell, the lone member of the Rays on Team USA, almost added a nice little memory to his World Baseball Classic scrapbook Wednesday.

He was one out from walking away from Dunedin Stadium as the winning pitcher after a solid inning of work in the seventh. But the Toronto Blue Jays rallied for three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning off the Mets' J.J. Putz for a 6-5 victory, dropping Team USA to 1-1 with one exhibition remaining.

Still, Tampa Bay's stellar middle reliever was upbeat after the game. "I feel really good," he said. "I didn't feel like I was sluggish. In fact, I needed to tone it down a little bit, and that's a good problem to have."

Inheriting a 2-1 deficit, Howell struck out the first two batters he faced, getting Jason Lane swinging and Chris Gutierrez looking. He was ahead in the count 1-and-2 on Travis Snider before the Jays rightfielder blooped a single to shallow right. Kyle Phillips followed with a single to right before the lefty retired John McDonald on a flyout to center.

Team USA's offense then awoke in the eighth, batting around and scoring four on four hits, including a two-run double by Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins. That put Howell — 6-1 last year for the Rays with a 2.22 ERA — in position to be the winning pitcher until the ninth-inning fold.

As for his effort, Howell remarked, "I got a little jumpy at the end, I got too excited and gave up some hits. So it's a little reminder not to do that. But it was fun to get out there again. It's been a while since my last outing (Saturday)."

Despite the loss, Howell and his all-star teammates were pleased with the way the offense awakened after getting only one hit through the first seven innings. "That's something we learned today," he said. "No matter when we're down, we can put a big inning together."

So far, he's having a blast playing with so many top-tier players and representing the U.S. "It's an unreal privilege and honor," he said. "It's unique for a guy in the big leagues to experience something like this. After a year like last year, I was kind of dragging my feet a little bit. Putting this uniform on gets the heartbeat going a little bit. That's what I needed."

NEXT UP: Team USA wraps up its exhibition run in a 12:05 p.m. game today against the Phillies at Bright House Field in Clearwater. Jeremy Guthrie of the Orioles will face Kyle Kendrick. The team will fly to Toronto after the game and open the tournament Saturday against Canada.

PEDRO SHARP: Pedro Martinez, who went 5-6 with a 5.61 ERA in 20 starts for the Mets last season, looked good pitching for the Dominican Republic against the Orioles considering he hadn't pitched in a game since Sept. 25.

It was an uplifting outing for Martinez, who performed far better than his line of two innings, three hits, a walk and two strikeouts would indicate.

"I'm still a little bit off on the pitches and getting a feel for the game, but I felt great," he said. "For the first time out in a real, real game, it's really good."

Information from Times wires was used in this report.

Tampa Bay Rays reliever J.P. Howell strong in World Baseball Classic exhibition game 03/04/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 4, 2009 10:09pm]
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