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.

Mets lose Robinson Canó, Jeff McNeil to injured list

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As Bill wrote last night, Robinson Canó — bashed for his lack of hustle just a few days ago — busted it out of the box last night and strained his hamstring. That has now landed him on the injured list. Adeiny Hechavarria took over at second base after Cano’s last night and is starting there in today’s game versus the Nationals. No timetable has been given for Canó, but one usually misses at least a couple of weeks with hamstring pulls, sometimes longer.

Also going on the shelf for the Mets is Jeff McNeil, who hurt his hamstring on Tuesday. J.D. Davis will cover for him until he comes back. Michael Conforto is the next regular outfielder who should return to the fold. He has still not been given an offical comeback date after hitting the injured list with a concussion, but it was reported yesterday that he has been symptom free for a few days, which is a good sign.