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Unsung Hero: J.P. Howell


J.P. Howell turned out to be a great free agent signing for the Dodgers. Photo: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The hero on Monday night was none other than Juan Uribe who smacked the decisive two-run homerun which sealed the Dodgers NLDS series victory against the Braves. Each game this season it seems like there is a different hero for the Dodgers, and this successful season couldn’t have been accomplished without some serious team chemistry (are you listening Brandon Belt?). When one Dodger falls, another is there to pick his teammate up. In Game 4 of the NLDS we watched Adrian Gonzalez make two uncharacteristic errors, and those unusual blunders almost cost the Dodgers the game and the series swing. Juan Uribe, who helped the Giants win their 2010 World Championship with his postseason fireworks, came through for the Dodgers not only with the bat but also with the glove. Uribe has been magnificent at third base this season, and he certainly is the comeback player of the year for the Dodgers. While Uribe, Kershaw, Hanley, Crawford, Puig, Jansen, Gonzalez, A.J. Ellis, and the core group get most of the accolades, there are members of the team who are unsung heroes. During this Blue campaign of 2013, there are certain Dodgers who have filled in the gaps and contributed to the team’s success.

J.P. Howell has been very effective out of the bullpen of late. The 30-year old left-hander may not be the flashiest pitcher on the squad, but J.P.’s consistent contributions this season shouldn’t go unnoticed. Along with the other bullpen boys, Howell has really given Don Mattingly a much needed left-handed choice out of the bullpen this year. Howell, who was signed in the offseason to a one-year $2.85 million deal has been a key part of this Dodger pitching staff through the regular season and in the NLDS as well.

Howell has pitched in three games during the NLDS for the Dodgers, and he has only allowed one hit in 2 1/3 innings of work. He has struck out three Braves and walked one. In Monday’s victory, Howell was brought in to mop up Ronald Belisario‘s mess in the top of the seventh inning after Beli struggled and allowed a run. Howell struck out Heyward, walked Justin Upton, and retired Freddie Freeman on a grounder to end the inning and the rally. Howell’s postseason ERA sits at 0.00 going into the NLCS where he will be a go-to pitching choice for Mattingly since Paco has faltered of late. Mattingly probably should use Howell in more high stakes situations during the remainder of the postseason and as a LOOGY when needed. This is not Howell’s first taste of postseason action. When with the Tampa Bay Rays, Howell pitched in the 2008 ALDS, ALCS, and World Series. He also briefly made an appearance in the 2011 ALDS with Tampa Bay as well. Although Howell collected three losses in the 2008 postseason after allowing 4 runs on 7 hits in the ALCS and World Series, the southpaw has been pitching very efficiently for the Dodgers this October thus far.

Born in Modesto, the 1st round draft pick by the Royals in 2004, spent most of his career with Tampa Bay before signing with the Dodgers. This season, Howell finished with a very commendable 4-1 record and 2.03 ERA in 67 games and 62 innings pitched making him one of the most important pieces of the Dodger bullpen in 2013. Howell excels against left-handed hitters, and this season lefties have hit .164 against him. He had a 1.95 ERA against lefties and struck out 36.

Howell uses three primary pitches including a sinker, a knuckle-curve, and a change-up.

If you want to look ahead, Howell has a 2.45 ERA versus Pittsburgh in his career (only 3 2/3 innings), yet he has a 6.35 ERA against St. Louis over 5 2/3 innings of work. This season he has not allowed a run against either team.

The Washington Nationals tried to sign Howell last offseason, but he turned them down to join the Dodgers. I expect Howell to garner interest from even more teams this upcoming winter, and it would be best for the Dodgers to re-sign Howell along with Juan Uribe. With Scott Elbert‘s career in question after succumbing to multiple elbow injuries, Chris Capuano‘s certain departure, and Paco’s inconsistencies, Howell could be a solid long-term left-handed specialist for the Dodgers.