J.P. Howell made a strong impression in his first big league start of the season, leading the Tampa Bay Devil Rays to a 5-1 win over the Kansas City Royals on Sunday afternoon. In doing so, Howell silenced several critics who thought that his recent promotion to the big-league club was without merit.
Howell (1-0), who was called up from the Triple-A Durham Bulls on Friday, worked eight strong innings -- scattering five hits and one earned run. The left-hander didn't register a walk and struck out seven hitters in a performance that Tampa Bay desperately needed. Using an effective change up, he was successfully able to work out of several tough spots throughout the game -- including a bases-loaded jam in the fourth inning. On his way to picking up the second win of his Tampa Bay career, Howell showed the potential that he flashed during spring training when he nearly earned a spot in the starting rotation. It was a pleasant site for Tampa Bay fans to see a pitcher -- other than Scott Kazmir or James Shields -- give the Devil Rays such a quality start.
B.J. Upton led the offensive charge for the Devil Rays, losers of the first two games of the series. Upton, who finished the day 2-for-3 with a run scored, doubled off of Royals starter Scott Elarton in his first two at bats of the game. He is now second on the team, trailing only Akinori Iwamura, with a .318 batting average. Carlos Pena also had two hits -- including a home run -- in the win for the Devil Rays. Pena, who has been one of the most prolific home run hitters in the American League this season, went 2-for-4, drove in a run, and scored two of Tampa Bay’s five runs. His eleventh home run of the season, which came in the eighth inning, provided the Devil Rays with a final insurance run.
Back-to-back doubles from Upton and Carl Crawford gave Tampa Bay its first run of the game in the bottom of the third inning. Crawford followed Upton’s second double of the game with an RBI double of his own -- putting the Devil Rays on top early. An inning later, Delmon Young hit his seventh home run of the season, a long blast off of Elarton, to bring the score to 2-1. Young’s home run proved to be all the run support that Howell would need.
Pena started another rally for Tampa Bay when he led off the sixth inning with a single to right field. Dioner Navarro then drove in Pena with a two-out triple, his second of the season, to bring the score to 3-1. Shortstop Brendan Harris followed with an RBI single up the middle that brought in Navarro. With the way that Howell was pitching, Harris’ hit broke the game open for the Devil Rays.
Royals catcher Jason LaRue connected for a solo home run to lead off the fifth inning, Howell’s only hiccup. LaRue’s second home run of the year was one of the only bright spots of the game for the Royals. Mike Sweeny had the only other extra-base hit off of Howell, a double in the second inning.
Al Reyes came on in the bottom of the ninth inning and retired the side in order.
The Devil Rays continue their series with the Royals on Monday night. Shields is scheduled to square off against the Royals’ $55 million man, Gil Meche. Shields -- 4-0 with a 3.13 ERA -- is looking for his fifth win of the season. Meche, who is only 3-4, is leading all Kansas City starters with a 3.00 ERA.
Notes- Iwamura didn't play due to an eye injury that forced him out of Saturday’s game early. He visited an eye specialist and is expected to be out four to five games. Ty Wigginton played third base for Tampa Bay in Iwamura’s absence, but didn't record a hit. Wigginton finished the game 0-for-4, dropping his batting average to .242. Harris finished 1-for-3 and is still above the .300 mark for the season -- .304. The game attendance was 12,200 at Tropicana Field. Howell’s win was his first at the big league level since September of 2006.