Rays close to adding J.P. Howell to league’s best bullpen

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Despite losing closer Rafael Soriano and setup men Joaquin Benoit, Grant Balfour, and Dan Wheeler to free agency the Rays’ bullpen leads the league with a 2.82 ERA and they’re close to adding left-hander J.P. Howell to the relief mix.

After struggling as a starter Howell moved to the bullpen full time in 2008 and went 13-6 with 20 saves, 171 strikeouts, and a 2.48 ERA in 156 innings over the next two seasons, but he missed all of last season following shoulder surgery.

Howell threw a scoreless inning at Triple-A over the weekend and manager Joe Maddon told Rick Stroud of the St. Petersburg Times that he’s on schedule to rejoin the Rays around May 15.

Before that happens he’ll need to show that he can work back-to-back games and Howell’s fastball clocked in at just 84-86 miles per hour during the rehab appearance, but even when he was dominating in 2008 and 2009 his average fastball was just 86 mph.

Freddie Freeman exits game after being hit on wrist by pitch

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Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman had to exit Wednesday night’s game against the Phillies after he was hit on the left wrist by a Hoby Milner fastball in the bottom of the eighth inning. Charlie Culberson pinch-ran for him and stayed in the game to play first base.

You may recall that Freeman’s left wrist is the one that was fractured by an Aaron Loup pitch last year. Understandably, there’s some concern here. The Braves should provide an update later tonight or on Thursday.

Freeman went 1-for-3 in Wednesday’s game before exiting. On the season, he’s batting .288/.468/.492 with two home runs, 12 RBI, and 12 runs scored in 79 plate appearances.