PORT CHARLOTTE — LHP J.P. Howell looks good, having bulked up 30 pounds to 196, and he feels great, throwing freely at about 80 percent with no issues from his surgically repaired left shoulder.
And as obviously excited as he was to be back with the Rays team after missing all of last season, he also knows he has to be — and the training staff is insisting he be — patient.
So though Howell was hoping to return in late April, his official target is now early to mid May, and he likely won't throw in any spring exhibitions, waiting until April and making minor-league rehab appearances.
"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 in spite of him feeling really good and chomping at the bit, we're still going to be very careful."
Howell, 27, said he understands but feels he could be ready sooner, and he definitely wants to be back in the majors by the May 19 anniversary of his labrum surgery, with an eye on reclaiming the closer's role. "They're saying calm down and whatever, we've got to build it, build, build it," he said. "I feel like if they want to rush me, they could."
With the added weight to his previously frail frame, Howell should have less strain on his shoulder. He also could have a bit more velocity though, given how he was successful without throwing hard before, Maddon hopes not too much. "This guy has been so deceptive and the ball has great movement, I don't know if more velocity is going to equal any more results or success," he said. "I'm curious. I'll take it with the same kind of movement."
He'll get his first look today, when Howell throws a 30- to 35-pitch bullpen session, no curve balls.
MANNY MOMENT: Let the record show that DH Manny Ramirez arrived at 9:26 a.m. Wednesday, five days earlier than required. He found his way around, talked briefly with Maddon and principal owner Stuart Sternberg and could be back to start working out as soon as today.
"Love it. Absolutely love it," Maddon said. "Definitely makes a statement that he was here today."
CALL OF DUTY: Unexpectedly soft-spoken and laid back off the mound, new RHP Kyle Farnsworth said he, too, was definitely interested in the closer's job.
"It would be good, yes," he said. "I know there's guys here that are capable of doing it also. I'm not that kind of guy who says, 'I want that job.' I'm going to go out there and let the performances speak for themselves."
CRUZ CONTROL: RHP Juan Cruz, a veteran reliever signed to a minor-league contract, is expected in camp by Friday, delayed by visa issues in his native Dominican Republic. He was the only absentee among 38 pitchers and catchers.
MISCELLANY: CF B.J. Upton and non-roster INF/OF Leslie Anderson also reported to camp, making it 13 of the 23 position players in early. … Maddon's opening address focused on the new theme of finding another way to win and defend their division title and how much opportunity there is for players to make an impact. … Among others, Maddon was intrigued by LHP Cesar Cabral, the Rule 5 pick from Boston who hasn't pitched above Class A. "Kind of an interesting fellow," Maddon said. … Also, he had a good first impression of 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."