Bisons: How­ell hopes to re­ward Blue Jays’ faith

Toronto Star - - SPORTS - LAURA ARMSTRONG SPORTS RE­PORTER

BUF­FALO— It wasn’t just one or two things that J.P. How­ell was strug­gling with when the left-handed re­liever landed on the dis­abled list in early June, yet to re­turn to the big leagues level six weeks later.

The ve­loc­ity on his sinker — which he used more than 60 per cent of the time in 82⁄ in­nings out of the ’pen for the Blue Jays this year — was in the low-80s rather than his ca­reer av­er­age of 87 miles per hour. His sharp­ness wasn’t there. He wasn’t lo­cat­ing his pitches. He was fall­ing off the mound. There was shoul­der tight­ness.

A con­sis­tent ma­jor-lea­guer for a hand­ful of years — his last DL stint head­ing into this sea­son came in 2010, his last trip to the mi­nors in 2011 — How­ell had de­vel­oped enough vices on the mound that they started to add up. The 34-year-old’s ERA bal­looned to 8.31 ERA and he stopped get­ting the call from the bullpen.

“I felt lost,” How­ell, who signed a one-year deal with Toronto in Jan­uary, said this past week. “You just feel like you don’t know what you’re do­ing and you’ve done it your whole life. It’s just tough. It’s re­ally hard.”

“I was throw­ing from my heel as op­posed to my toe. I don’t know how that even started, you know what I mean? It’s like, ‘Why did that hap­pen?’ You pitch through in­juries over a 12-year ca­reer, you’re go­ing to some­times have bad habits and you need to chan­nel them back. Com­ing here was the best thing for me.”

Here is Buf­falo, where How­ell is on a re­hab as­sign­ment with the Triple-A Bisons. It’s not the level he is ac­cus­tomed to, but How­ell knows the al­ter­na­tive could have been much worse.

“They’ve been as pro­fes­sional as you can be,” How­ell said of the Blue Jays, his fourth big-league or­ga­ni­za­tion. “They could’ve just flat out told me to go home. They can do what­ever they want. But they chose to put me here, set me up with a throw­ing pro­gram. They never showed dis­ap­point­ment. They were just ex­cited about the process and re­sults are com­ing. They don’t have to be this pa­tient with me and they have been.”

Like any com­peti­tor, How­ell would have pre­ferred to battle through his strug­gles in the big leagues. But he wasn’t get­ting the in­nings he needed. How­ell said he un­der­stood that the “trust fac­tor was prob­a­bly pretty low” when it came time for Blue Jays man­ager John Gibbons to con­sider putting him on the mound.

“It was ob­vi­ous I couldn’t com­pete, I couldn’t get outs and it was a fail for the mo­ment,” How­ell said.

It was a low point for a re­liever with 544 big-league ap­pear­ances un­der his belt.

“A month ago, I was a lit­tle down,” he said. “You’ve got to let it hap­pen. You’ve got to be down. You’ve got to go through that. You don’t want to ig­nore that. I let it hap­pen and just worked as I was, and you get a lot of char­ac­ter and strength through it. I’ll take that any time I can get it.”

How­ell said he felt ready to pitch im­me­di­ately af­ter join­ing the Bisons in early June, but fol­lowed the Blue Jays’ sug­ges­tion to step back and fo­cus on me­chan­ics away from the field. He has pitched 42⁄ in­nings for the Bisons, al­low­ing five hits, two runs and notch­ing six strike­outs. He said his ve­loc­ity is up and he’s feel­ing sharper, and lo­cat­ing pitches bet­ter than he has in a year.

Now, it’s a mat­ter of do­ing it con­sis­tently.

The Blue Jays have 30 days from the pitcher’s first re­hab out­ing to make a de­ci­sion on his fu­ture.

Lefty re­lief spe­cial­ist J.P. How­ell sees signs of progress on re­hab stint with Triple-A Buf­falo.

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