ST. PETERSBURG — With Dioner Navarro ready to go back behind the plate, the Rays added experience and a power arm to their bullpen by calling up veteran RHP Joaquin Benoit.
"Kind of an interesting guy to have,'' manager Joe Maddon said. "We think he makes us better.''
Benoit, 32, a veteran of eight big-league seasons with Texas, signed with the Rays after missing all of the 2009 season recovering from shoulder surgery.
He showed flashes of his past form, as well as a 96 mph fastball, during spring training, but the Rays wanted him to build arm strength for a few weeks at Triple-A Durham.
Benoit wasn't overly happy with their decision but did relatively well in 92/3 innings over eight games, posting a 2.79 ERA, .216 opponents' average and impressive ratio of 17 strikeouts to three walks.
Benoit also has a solid changeup and is likely to be used against left- and right-handers.
C Jose Lobaton, who was summoned to provide backup with Navarro serving a suspension Tuesday and Wednesday (and recovering from a sore right leg), headed back to Triple A.
SHIELDS UP: RHP James Shields didn't get off to the best start but delivered a strong seven-inning outing, striking out a career-high-matching 12. It was his fourth double-digit strikeout game and first since July 1, 2007. "A really nice job,'' Maddon said.
TAKING ONE FOR THE TEAM: SS Jason Bartlett was swollen and a bit sore after being hit in the back by Ben Zobrist's line drive while on third base, but he said he expects to play tonight. "I think it's just going to be a little sore,'' Bartlett said.
STILL FIRST AT THIRD: Zobrist is admittedly swinging at too many pitches outside the strike zone and trying to do too much with them, and he has yet to hit a home run, but Maddon has no plans to drop him from the No. 3 spot in the order he moved him to this spring based on how well the whole team is producing.
Even though Zobrist (.250, nine RBIs) hasn't produced much, Evan Longoria and Carlos Peña have behind him.
"It's worked out pretty well," Maddon said. "Longo and Carlos have had plenty of RBI opportunities. That's how I'm looking at it. (Zobrist) is going to start drawing his walks. … He's going to get on base, he's still going to see a lot of pitches, too. I don't feel any need to change anything right now."
J.P. DUTY: The only way LHP J.P. Howell would have felt better about throwing off a mound Wednesday would have been if he'd done so in a game.
Howell said he couldn't have been more pleased with how he did and felt during the 32-pitch session, his first since being sidelined in spring training with shoulder weakness: "I'm happy with it, I'll take it; that was 100 percent pass for me."
Maddon liked what he saw, especially that he threw easily and didn't appear to be "masking anything or holding back.'' Howell will know more based on how his arm feels today, expecting to go on a rehab assignment around May 17-20 and rejoin the Rays at the end of the month.
The Rays want to see more, with a similar mound session planned for Friday then 3-5 minor-league appearances, before setting a date for his return. "If everything works out well, that may happen that way," was all Maddon would say.
When Howell does come back, he will be handled carefully with strict monitoring of his usage and workload.
MISCELLANY: The sixth-inning homers by Longoria and Peña were the first back-to-back of the season. … LF Carl Crawford got his fourth assist, tying for the AL lead. … INF Hank Blalock upped his average to .404 at Durham, and RHP Jeremy Hellickson improved to 4-0. … RHP Matt Bush, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2004 draft trying to salvage his career with the Rays, was added to Class A Charlotte's active roster.