Relief Ace J.P. Howell had a bump in the road to recovery today as he removed himself for a simulated game at the Trop after just 12 pitches. He was originally scheduled to throw 30 pitches. According to SunSports, Howell wasn't able to describe exacly what he felt to Joe Maddon, however, whatever the feeling was he knew it wasn't good. Maddon classified it as a "setback." But also added that Howell would be fine. Meanwhile, he admitted he doesn't know what the next step is, or when it will come.
The Rays have been very cautious with J.P. throughout his recovery from a weak shoulder, and the simulated game was supposed to a big step. Howell has just recently begun throwing bullpen sessions and threw live batting practice for the first time on Friday. Had things gone well today, he was likely headed to Port Charlotte for three-to-five rehab appearances before re-joining the Rays.
In Howell's absence, the bullpen chain in front of Rafael Soriano must remain strong. Joaquin Benoit becomes an even more important addition due to his ability to handle lefties and righties. Lance Cormier is similar to Benoit, but on a lesser talent scale, however, with more groundballs. Dan Wheeler and Randy Choate remain valuable as long as they are used to their strengths. And we all hope Grant Balfour's new found control continues as he continues to be a go-to guy for Maddon in tight spots.
Without getting into the guessing game, we all hope for the best. Even now, J.P. Howell remains a critical part of the team. Although, we have the best record in baseball without him, his presence in the bullpen only makes the team stronger. Again, not to speculate, but even a minor setback would likely delay his return. We know the Rays are overly cautious with injuries. With Howell being one of the most important arms in the organization, I rather get him back a little bit later, than lose him for a longer period of time.