For much of the 2014 season, J.P. Howell was the lone left-handed specialist in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ bullpen. He was joined sporadically by Paco Rodriguez, who was shuffled back and forth from the Minors and spent a considerable amount of time on the disabled list.
Despite the burden placed on Howell’s shoulders, he threw 13-less innings last season than he did in 2013, despite making one more appearance (68). Whereas Howell showed signs of fatigue down the stretch of the 2013 season, manager Don Mattingly took precautionary measures last season.
While the objective was to have Howell fresh for the postseason, the 31 year old believes it may have done more harm than good, according to Pedro Moura of the OC Register:
And, in his mind, it all started over that nine-day break, when he said he took a “mental vacation” that he came to regret. It tortured him for four solid months. “I had a problem with that. Failing is fine. I can handle failing,” Howell said. “But I hate when it’s due to a lack of being smart, which is an easy thing to do.”
Howell admits had he handle the situation properly, the extra rest likely would’ve worked as planned:
I need to learn how to handle that,” he said. “It would’ve been beneficial if I had handled it correctly, but I actually chilled out way too much.”
Howell carried a 1.21 ERA into September, lowered it to 1.17 on Sept. 10 when he earned his 27th hold of the season, then wasn’t called on until Sept. 19. From that point forward, he allowed nine earned runs (including two in the postseason) over his next seven appearances.
The left-hander has been limited by groin tightness that’s resulted in him only taking the mound twice this spring. His most recent outing came Saturday against the Cleveland Indians in which he threw a perfect inning.
Despite Mattingly’s handling of Howell backfiring last season, it wouldn’t necessarily be a poor strategy used once more in 2015 if the Dodgers are in position to do so. With Howell having learned from the unusual break, he could take steps to ensure a better return for a presumed postseason run.
Paco Rodriguez Working On Mechanics