J.P. Howell Sidelined with Groin Tightness
Spring Training often includes a lot of minor injuries and typical soreness for players after coming back from the long offseason, yet some rustiness is a bit more concerning. J.P. Howell pitched in one inning on Friday, his first outing of the Spring, and he didn’t look so sharp allowing two runs on two hits with a strikeout. Seattle’s Chris Taylor hit a two-run homerun against Howell in the top of the fifth inning.
Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Times questioned Howell’s potential to be a temporary closer while Kenley Jansen is out recovering from foot surgery after the rough inning at Camelback Ranch on Friday. While we can certainly agree that one inning during Spring Training cannot possibly decide Howell’s role on the club this upcoming season, there was another explanation for his atypical outing.
J.P. Howell reportedly felt some mild left-groin tightness on Friday after he pitched the single inning against the Mariners. As a precautionary measure, the left-hander did not pitch his scheduled bullpen session on Sunday, and he will take it easy for the next few days. In the report by Ken Gurnick, Howell explained that “the discomfort is typical for him after a first game appearance.”
The Dodger bullpen, which was notorious for melting down in 2014, now has a very questionable late inning configuration with Kenley Jansen out until May and Joel Peralta behind schedule due to shoulder stiffness.
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Even though the Dodger bullpen gave me a lot of heart ache last year, Howell’s season was one of the bright spots. J.P. was one of the best relievers on the squad. He finished the season with a 2.39 ERA over 68 games and 49 innings pitched in 2014. He only allowed 2 homeruns all season long while striking out 48 and walking 25. He struck out 8.8 batters per nine innings which was his best since 2009 with the Tampa Bay Rays.
Howell was signed to a two-year $11.25 contract with a 2016 team option. The $6.25 million team option or $250,000 buyout option becomes a player option if he pitches 65 games in 2015 or totals 120 games between 2014-15 and is not on the disabled list at the end of the season.
Howell tailed off at the end of 2014 most likely due to fatigue. Don Mattingly was forced to use Howell more than just a left-handed specialist when his other relief options failed to pitch reliably. Of course we all remember the Matt Carpenter homerun hit off J.P. Howell in the top of the eighth inning in Game 2 of the NLDS versus the Cardinals. Luckily Matt Kemp‘s heroic homerun broke the tie and gave the Dodgers the victory thereafter. Howell also helped the Dodgers get out of a jam in Game 3 when he initiated a remarkable double play on a ball hit by Kolten Wong after Brian Wilson had one of his eighth inning meltdowns.
Howell, who knows Andrew Friedman well from his days in Tampa Bay, told the other J.P., J.P. Hoornstra of the Los Angeles News Group, how he thought Friedman would go about dealing with the closer conundrum after Kenley Jansen’s foot surgery news broke last month.
"“He’s going to do research and he’s going to make an educated decision,” Howell said. “That’s something I’ve learned from him. He’s not going to go off emotion. He’s going to do his homework. He’s going to go with what he feels is best. Usually he’s pretty on point with that.”"
Hopefully J.P. Howell’s groin tightness is mild, and he will be back on the mound in a few days. If not, Friedman does have a plethora of arms to choose from this Spring in order to at least temporarily fill out the bullpen. Of course losing Kenley Jansen for any length of time is a huge blow to the Dodgers, but if J.P. Howell should also be disabled, the eighth and ninth innings will suddenly become very sketchy.
The good news is that the Dodgers do have other lefties in camp. Adam Liberatore, Daniel Coulombe, Chris Reed and Paco Rodriguez are all in the mix. They also have non-roster invites and left-handers Erik Bedard, Ryan Buchter, David Huff and Julio Urias getting looks this Spring as well. Urias is perhaps the only southpaw who will not be considered to make the team, but Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi have definitely put the old adage you can never have enough pitching to the forefront of their offseason plans this winter when they picked up a small army of hurlers.
Spring Snippets: Right-hander Josh Ravin has yet to allow a hit this Spring in his 2 games thus far. He has struck out 2 and walked none. Ravin hails from West Hills, CA, and was a star pitcher for Chatsworth High School. He has spent 9 seasons in the minors mostly with Cincinnati who drafted him in 2006 in the 5th round. Ravin likes to post inspirational quotes on Twitter.