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.

Steven Souza says the Oakland Coliseum dirt caused him to hurt his hip

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Tampa Bay Rays right fielder Steven Souza blames the field conditions at the Oakland Coliseum for hurting his hip. He left Wednesday’s game after sliding into second base on a steal attempt and says the dirt was to blame:

“I went to slide, and it was extremely muddy around second base. My leg got stuck in the ground, and I just kind of felt a jump in my hip. That didn’t feel very great . . . “I don’t know how it got real muddy out there, but it was not OK. I’ve never actually slid into a major league base like that and stuck and felt like I was going deeper in the ground.”

He wouldn’t be the first person to find fault with the Coliseum, but he’s the first person I can remember lodging this particular complaint. At least before the Raiders start playing and mess up the field for football season. Souza had a hip injury last year, though, so it’s understandable if he’s a bit more sensitive to it all. At the moment he’s day-to-day.

In other news, the A’s are said to be closer than ever to getting a new stadium. Like, way closer than they have been for the past decade in which they’ve been looking to get a new stadium.

The Brewers have been “aggressive” in their trade talks for Justin Wilson

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I love the trade deadline. Yeah, it’s cool that players get traded, influencing pennant races and all that jazz, but I also love it for the terminology.

So many “internal discussions” and so much tire-kicking. Just today I heard that a team has “gotten some feelers” for a player. That sounds kinda dirty, but in a good wholesome PG-13 sort of way. It’s two solid weeks of euphemism, really.

Sometimes, though, it gets scary. Like the way the Brewers are said to be talking about Justin Wilson of the Tigers:

I suppose if you’re “hanging on for dear life” that even the worst behavior can be excused, but I do hope that Brewers GM David Stearns is not threatening to rough up Tigers GM Al Avila or anything. Can a trade made under duress caused by threats of physical force be vetoed by the commissioner? An interesting analysis to be sure, even if it’s only speculative for now.

As for Wilson, I suppose the Brewers would have to be aggressive. He’s probably the most sought-after pitcher on the market at the moment. The Detroit Free Press reported earlier this week that 10-12 clubs were in on the left-handed reliever. He has a 2.75 ERA in 38 appearances and is striking out 12.5 batters per nine innings. He’s textbook trade deadline fodder, and the Tigers will likely get a nice return for him.

But please, Stearnsy, don’t hurt ’em.