In his first season with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2013, J.P. Howell established himself as one of the more dependable relievers for manager Don Mattingly. Howell signed a two-year deal with a mutual option for 2016.
With Paco Rodriguez spending much of the season in the Minors, Howell was often the lone lefty in the Dodgers’ bullpen. Manager Don Mattingly said in April he wasn’t concerned by that, considering Howell’s success against batters from both sides of the plate.
Mattingly’s belief proved to be true as Howell held right-handed hitters to a .198 average in 81 at-bats while left-handed batters it just .170 in 88 at-bats.
Although the southpaw appeared in one more game in 2014 than 2013, his total number of innings pitched decreased by 13 but his ERA jumped to 2.39 from 2.03, and WHIP slightly increased from 1.05 to 1.14. However, to his credit, he only allowed two of 35 inherited runners to score.
Howell was particularly effective from May through August, but September proved to be an entirely different story. The southpaw appeared in just seven games in September — his lowest total for a month last season — and had an 11.81 ERA with a .360 batting average against.
The 31-year-old tied for first among Dodger relievers with 68 appearances and his 27 holds were good for most on the team.
While he wasn’t the lone culprit, some of Howell’s troubles carried into the postseason. With the Dodgers leading the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 2 of the National League Division Series, Howell gave up the game-tying home run to Matt Carpenter in the eighth inning.
Howell also made relief appearances in Games 1 and 3, allowing two hits and no runs in 1.1 innings.
With the Dodgers leading the Philadelphia Phillies in seventh inning, Howell was called out of the bullpen with the bases loaded and no outs. The southpaw got the first batter he faced to line out, then induced a ground ball for a fielder’s choice at home plate.
Howell got help from Carl Crawford on a sinking liner to end the inning and the Dodgers maintained their 2-0 lead, which wound up being the final score of the game.
Howell figures to again be an integral piece of the Dodgers bullpen and a season similar to any of his previous two should more than suffice. While it is out of his control, where Howell may benefit is in the Dodgers carrying another lefty so as not to possibly overwork him.