Life after J.P. Howell in Rays bullpen

Published Jan. 7, 2013

With long-time Rays left-hander J.P. Howell's heading to play for the Dodgers, agreeing on a one-year deal last week, the Tampa Bay bullpen lost one of its more unique and fun personalities.

It'll be weird not seeing the California-cool Howell rocking in his clubhouse chair in Port Charlotte next month, listening to music and greeting you with a "What's up, dude?"

But the Rays bullpen will still be very strong, and are in a position to have several lefties make an impact.

There's hard-throwing LHP Jake McGee, who blossomed into a late-inning force, posting a 1.95 ERA and 73 strikeouts in 55 1/3 innings.

"Jake McGee became an animal," pitching coach Jim Hickey said. "Dominant stuff."

This also could be a big opportunity for LHP Cesar Ramos, who has shuttled back and forth between Triple-A and the Rays the past two seasons since getting acquired in the SS Jason Bartlett trade with the Padres. Ramos seemed to turn a corner last year, gaining confidence and showing what he could do when he attacks and gets ahead of hitters.

Ramos had a 2.10 ERA in 17 appearances, including July 21 against Seattle, when he struck out six in four scoreless innings of impressive relief. At the time, manager Joe Maddon said it could be a coming-of-age moment for the lefty. Ramos, a converted starter, is capable of working multiple innings as a long reliever, and face both righties and lefties.

"I've got total confidence in this guy," Hickey said. "When he gets ahead of hitters, he puts them away with the best of them. … I think it's time for him, I think this is his little window of opportunity."

Another lefty Rays fans could see at some point this year is LHP Frank De Los Santos, who is coming off a strong season for Triple-A and worked his way onto the 40-man roster.

De Los Santos, 25, had a 2.18 ERA in 27 appearances for the Bulls, with a 25:10 strikeout/walk ratio.

Mitch Lukevics, Rays director of minor league operations, said De Los Santos mentally matured the last couple years, and with his development, he 'forced us to put him on our major league roster."

"He has plus-stuff," Lukevics said. "He has a fastball, depending on what day you see him, can get up to 93-94, average 91. He's fearless on the mound and can get lefthanders out. We don't consider him a speciality pitcher - he's not a Randy Choate type guy."

LHP Alex Torres is another potential option at some point, but he's got to improve his command to return to the big-league level. Torres still has a minor league option remaining, so he could continue to try to work out those kinks in Durham.