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Tampa Bay Rays reliever J.P. Howell feels good after throwing batting practice

ST. PETERSBURG — LHP J.P. Howell admittedly woke up with some nerves Friday morning.

Howell, on the disabled list with a left shoulder strain, was eager to throw his first live batting practice session of his rehab. And after feeling good in a 25-pitch afternoon session at Tropicana Field, Howell said it was another "big step" in his recovery.

He's scheduled to throw a simulated game Tuesday and hopes to return in late May or early June.

"It's definitely a unique situation; no fans or anything," he said. "But it felt like a game to me."

Howell said he threw "about 80 percent" velocity but mixed in changeups and curveballs to 2B Reid Brignac, utilityman Sean Rodriguez and special assistant Rocco Baldelli.

"I threw how I normally throw. I let about five or six go and felt fine," said Howell, who added his shoulder is at 90 percent. "I'm excited."

Manager Joe Maddon said he liked what he saw.

"He looked normal," he said. "He wasn't trying to overthrow the ball; had some nice movement on it. I didn't get a chance to talk to him in depth, but he looked pretty good."

NEXT STEP: OF Matt Joyce said his strained right elbow feels as good as it has since hurting it in spring training, and he will start a rehab assignment next week with Class A Charlotte.

Joyce did a full workout of throwing (from 90 feet), hitting and running the bases Friday. He is scheduled to take batting practice over the weekend then be the designated hitter Tuesday for the Stone Crabs before working his way back into the outfield.

"I'm feeling great," he said. "I'm ready to rock."

It has been a frustrating few months for Joyce, who was hoping to earn an opening day roster spot in rightfield but was limited in spring due to the injury. He said while "I'm not letting it go just yet," his arm strength is improving.

"It's been a headache and heartache and everything in between," he said. "So it's a relief to finally be able to throw and not worry about it hurting or the pain and everything. I'm excited to get back out there."

BOUNCING BACK: CF B.J. Upton, hitting .093 (4-for-43) in his past 12 games, said his struggles are more mental than mechanical.

"There's definitely too much going on up there in my head while I'm in the box," he said before Friday's game. "All of that should be left in the cage where you do your work, and I'm kind of taking the cage with me to the plate."

STRONG SHIELDS: Though RHP James Shields said it was easier to move on from his loss in his last start (when A's LHP Dallas Braden threw a perfect game), he's eager to improve on the outing in which he gave up four runs (two earned) and 11 hits over six innings.

"I've had pretty good fastball command all year," he said. "And (last outing), I got a little out of synch as far as my fastball. Some days, it is like that. You don't have your good stuff, and you've got to deal with it."

Maddon said Shields has been able to maintain a little higher velocity due to mechanical adjustments made this season.

"And I think his changeup is a lot better because of what he's doing with his delivery," he said. "His changeup is starting to fall off the corner of the earth again."

Miscellany: 3B Evan Longoria has six homers, six doubles and 17 RBIs in his past 15 games. … Rays starting pitchers have been charged with the loss three times in the past six games after only twice in the first 29.

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com

Tampa Bay Rays reliever J.P. Howell feels good after throwing batting practice 05/14/10 [Last modified: Saturday, May 15, 2010 1:11am]

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