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.

Odúbel Herrera dealing with strained left hamstring

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Phillies center fielder Odúbel Herrera is dealing with a slight strain of his left hamstring, Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reports. Herrera apparently had been dealing with some discomfort in that area starting a couple weeks ago and underwent an MRI.

Herrera, 27, is coming off a 2018 season in which he took a step back. He hit slightly below the league average at .255/.310/.420 with 22 home runs and 71 RBI in 597 plate appearances. He is entering the third year of his five-year, $30.5 million contract signed back in December 2016.

Herrera is slated to be the club’s starting center fielder once again. In the event his hamstring issue lingers, Roman Quinn would slide into the starting role. One wonders, though, if a less-than-100-percent Herrera might further entice the Phillies to go after free agent outfielder Bryce Harper.