ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — J.P. Howell was one of Tampa Bay’s final cuts at the end of spring training. Now, he’s determined to make the most of his latest chance in the major leagues.
Howell pitched eight impressive innings in his first start this season, and the Devil Rays got solo home runs from Delmon Young and Carlos Pena in a 5-1 victory over the Kansas City Royals on Sunday.
“That was pretty nice, wasn’t it?” Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said.
Howell (1-0), recalled from Triple-A Durham on Friday when the Devil Rays revamped their rotation, gave up five hits and struck out seven. Obtained from Kansas City last June, the left-hander went 1-3 with a 5.10 ERA in eight starts for Tampa Bay in 2006.
“I’ll take it, that’s for certain,” Howell said.
He lost four of his first five decisions at Durham before rebounding to go 3-5 with a 3.96 ERA in 11 starts.
“I learned the most I’ve ever learned I think in those two months with that team,” Howell said. “It worked out.”
Al Reyes finished up with a perfect ninth after Howell threw 100 pitches.
“Had he had a shutout, I might have let him go back out there at that point,” Maddon said. “The score being what it was, I wanted him to leave with a good feeling. I thought it was just a wonderful, first-time-back outing. I didn’t want anything to impact that in a negative way.”
Kansas City starter Scott Elarton (1-2) lost for the sixth time in six career starts against the Devil Rays, giving up four runs and six hits in 5 2/3 innings. He has allowed 27 earned runs and 41 hits in 28 1/3 innings (8.58 ERA) in his six outings against Tampa Bay.
“I feel like I should match up well with them,” Elarton said. “They’re an aggressive team, being a young team, and that should match up with what I want to do, but for some reason it hasn’t.”
Jason LaRue home run for the Royals, who lost for just the third time in their past 11 road games.
Carl Crawford put the Devil Rays ahead 1-0 with an RBI double in the third. It was only his third hit in 22 at-bats.
Kansas City center fielder David DeJesus took an extra-base hit away from Ty Wigginton with a strong catch against the wall in the fourth. It probably saved a run because two pitches later Young made it 2-0 on his solo shot.
LaRue got the Royals to 2-1 on his second home run leading off the fifth. His other home run came on May 5.
Dioner Navarro had an RBI triple in Tampa Bay’s two-run sixth that extended the lead to 4-1. Brendan Harris added a run-scoring single.
“Today, there were just two disappointing pitches,” Elarton said. “I made a real bad pitch to Young and then the triple to Navarro. That was really my only disappointments. Otherwise, I felt pretty good.”
Pena hit his 11th home run in the eighth.
The Royals loaded the bases with one out in the fourth, but failed to score when Ryan Shealy struck out and Tony Pena flied out.
Kansas City was 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position against Howell, who retired his last 12 batters.
“I think the main thing with J.P. was he didn’t walk anybody,” Kansas City manager Buddy Bell said. “We helped him out in a couple of situations, but overall J.P. threw strikes.”
Both benches were warned by plate umpire Joe West after B.J. Upton was hit by Elarton’s pitch with the bases empty and one out in the fifth.
LaRue had been hit by a second-inning pitch. However, neither appeared to be intentional.