NEW YORK — As expected, LHP J.P. Howell had season-ending left shoulder surgery Wednesday, but the Rays are optimistic he'll be ready to start the 2011 season.
Rays executive VP Andrew Friedman wouldn't confirm whether the procedure — performed by Dr. James Andrews in Alabama — was to repair a torn labrum but said it went as "well as it could" and expects the 27-year-old to "be the J.P. Howell of old" next year.
The Rays had targeted a late May or early June return for Howell, but Friedman acknowledged he knew it'd be a tough road back from the moment they put him on the disabled list in March with left shoulder weakness. Howell cut a simulated game short Monday when feeling discomfort after 12 pitches.
"When we got the news about J.P. in spring training … in our mind's eye, we were approaching it like he wouldn't be back," Friedman said. "And if he was, obviously it'd be a huge boost."
The bullpen has stepped up in Howell's absence, entering Wednesday with a 1.63 ERA (77 innings, 14 earned runs) in the previous 30 games. While Randy Choate is the only lefty, manager Joe Maddon said RHPs Lance Cormier, Joaquin Benoit and Andy Sonnanstine have shown they can get lefties out.
"We have a lot of guys we feel comfortable with and we have a lot of confidence in," Friedman said. "That said, if something presents itself that makes a lot of sense for us, obviously we'll be aggressive in pursuing it."
Friedman said they went through a rehab process in a "very methodical way" to give Howell the best chance to return.
"We tried everything possible to avoid (surgery)," Maddon said. "And it was unavoidable as it turned out."
FIRST-TIMER: RHP James Shields enters his first start at the new Yankee Stadium tonight hoping it turns out like his last one at the old one: a 7-1 win, his only victory against the Yankees. "I hope to build off that — hope I didn't leave it underground," Shields joked.
C.C. CHATTER: LF Carl Crawford was surrounded by more than a dozen New York writers in the visiting clubhouse, and the conversation inevitably led to a question about his pending free agency and whether he had thoughts of playing for the Yankees. "I don't think about it at all," Crawford said. "Everyone knows, when you're winning, it lets you be carefree all the time, where you don't have to think about that stuff too much."
SAY WHAT? RHP Matt Garza bristled when a reporter referred to the Rays rotation as young. "Who cares if we're young if we're doing our job?" he said. "We're getting outs as fast as possible.
"They're more used to the veteran type stuff up here. It's a fresh breath of air for everyone else, opening their eyes and saying, 'You know what? Maybe you don't need to get the older, older guys. Maybe give the other guys a shot.' "
MISCELLANY: Pat Burrell cleared waivers and is a free agent. The Rays are on the hook for the remaining $6.49 million on his $9 million contract. … ESPN has picked up Monday night's home game against the Red Sox. … Yankees RF Marcus Thames left in the sixth with a sprained left ankle.
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.