ST. PETERSBURG -- J.P. Howell entered in the seventh inning of Monday's Game 3 of the Rays' American League Division Series against Texas and surrendered a two-run single to Josh Hamilton that turned out to be the difference in a 4-3 Tampa Bay loss.
Howell, who missed all of the 2010 season after left-shoulder surgery, made 46 appearances this season with mixed results, finishing with a 2-3 record and a 6.16 ERA. The 28-year-old left-hander did put together a stretch of 24 appearances from July 2-Sept 7 when he held opponents to a .148 average. Then, he endured a tough stretch at the end of the season -- when he surrendered a key home run to Matt Wieters in a loss to Baltimore and a game-changing double to Robinson Cano in a doubleheader loss to the Yankees.
"I really thought he was coming along well," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "His last two hits have been against two pretty good hitters -- Robinson Cano and Josh Hamilton -- two pretty good hitters."
Maddon told reporters that he looked for Howell after Monday night's loss, with no success, "just to pick him up a little bit."
"A ball just finds a hole, right there," Maddon said. "And it's unfortunate, because the reason we chose him for this team was for that particular moment with Hamilton, and also on his work to left-handers in general. I have a lot of faith in this guy, I always have. He's been a big part of our past, I hope he's a big part of our future, too. I didn't see [using him in that situation] as a big reach.
"Physically, he's been fine. And, you know, if you show somebody some confidence, sometimes you'll get rewarded for it, too. Listen, it's a base hit there [on Monday]. It's not even about that. A couple of walks before that, a couple of stolen bases before that. It's about us having chances to score runs and that moment goes away. It's not just about J.P. by any means."
Howell got booed when he entered the game and booed when he left, which Maddon called "wrong."
"I don't understand why the folks would have gone there [on Monday]," Maddon said. "It's inappropriate. Here's a guy who was a big part of our World Series run. He's coming off a severe injury and he's done some really good work this year -- particularly against left-handers. He's given up a couple of homers. That's why the numbers are so high. He has not been as bad as he seems. But that was the right moment for him, that situation against Hamilton."
Maddon believes Howell has the necessary makeup to overcome his recent adversity.
"Absolutely," Maddon said. "I know he does. The thing I like, he didn't walk anybody. He went after them. He's actually stronger than he had been. I still think feel is not part of it yet, and it will be. But again, to lay all of that on J.P. ... is absolutely absurd, as far as I'm concerned. He gave up one hit, he made a pitch, the guy finds a hole. We could have done a lot of other things and that would have been an innocuous moment in [Monday's] game."
When asked if he would use Howell, if needed, in Game 4, Maddon replied: "I'll talk to him. It's that time of the year where everybody may have to help."
Rays lose Game 3 speed battle
ST. PETERSBURG -- Though the Rays came into the postseason with the second-most stolen bases (155) of any Major League team, it was the Rangers who showcased their speed on the basepaths in a 4-3 victory on Monday in Game 3 of the American League Division Series.
Texas matched a postseason franchise record with four stolen bases, which the club also accomplished in the second game of last year's AL Championship Series against the Yankees.
It marked the most steals by a club in a Division Series since the Rays recorded four in 2008. The three stolen bases in the seventh inning tied a DS record that has been accomplished two other times, in 1995 (Reds) and 2007 (Angels).
"[The Rangers succeeded] because they do their homework, too, and they know when it is a good time to go," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "A lot of it is on the pitcher. It's not [that] that's the thing about basestealing, when you're trying to ... imagine or game plan against who you are going to steal with. A lot of times -- or most ... times -- it is versus the pitcher, not the catcher."
With the four steals, Texas currently leads every team in the playoffs. During the regular season, the Rangers ranked fifth with 143 stolen bases. Meanwhile, the Rays have been tamed on the basepaths, with just one steal in three attempts through the first three games. B.J. Upton has accounted for each try.
"But [the Rangers are] good at that," Maddon said. "You watch their defense, you just watch what they do in general, they are very similar to us. Their gameplanning's good. For instance, you saw a line drive by [Ben] Zobrist on the first-base line where [Mitch] Moreland caught it, and another ball hit later in the game well struck down the first-base line versus [Colby] Lewis.
"So they gameplan well. That's a part of their success. It is a big part of our success. They have some really athletic defenders out there, too. That's why it is such an evenly-matched series. I have a lot of respect for what they do and how they do it, and for a lot of reasons. Part of the reason is the fact that I believe it is very similar to the way we do things."
Middle of Rays' order scuffles in Game 3
ST. PETERSBURG -- It's tough enough to score runs in the playoffs against the American League's second-best team, the Texas Rangers.
But it's even harder when the heart of the Rays' lineup -- Evan Longoria, Matt Joyce and Johnny Damon -- is shut down. They finished just 1-for-10 with two walks and six strikeouts in Monday's 4-3 loss to the Rangers in Game 3 of the American League Division Series.
Despite some of the offensive struggles, Tampa Bay pulled to within one run on Desmond Jennings' leadoff homer in the eighth inning.
"It's about the pitcher," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "[Colby] Lewis is really good, and he made some really good pitches [on Monday]. [Tuesday's] momentum is always going to be generated by the starting pitcher or pitchers. He was good. He was very good. He has been good against us. He is not going to get a Christmas card from me, I promise you that. He has been that way for a couple years now. That's what you saw; that's what I saw. We knew that going into it."
In the Rays' 8-6 loss in Game 2, Longoria, Ben Zobrist and Damon went a combined 3-for-13 with three RBIs, all of which came on Longoria's homer. Tampa Bay's 9-0 win to open the postseason featured a more balanced attack. Those same three batters went 4-for-14 with five runs and Damon's three RBIs.
Maddon switched around his lineup for Game 4, batting Kelly Shoppach sixth, Sean Rodriguez seventh and Casey Kotchman eighth. Joyce rounded out the order, hitting ninth.
"I think, in that moment, the season is kind of on the line," Joyce said. "You're down to your last two games -- and those are must win games, too. So the same mindset is taken here [on Tuesday], and we really have to come up with the big hits in order to win."
If Martinez leaves, it will be a big loss
ST. PETERSBURG -- Davey Martinez is said to be among the top candidates to fill Ozzie Guillen's vacated post as manager of the White Sox. If that happens, Rays manager Joe Maddon said the Rays would miss Martinez, the team's bench coach.
"First of all, I'd love for him to get that opportunity, if that's what he wants to do," Maddon said. "We would absolutely congratulate him and wish him well, and it would be outstanding. Perspective-wise from the Rays, it would be a big loss for us -- and for me personally -- because [of] the job he does, he really takes a lot off my plate on a daily basis. He's grown into this position extremely well. He understands it, he gets it. He does it as good as anyone out there now, I know that. So it would be a big loss for us. So to try and re-train or re-generate that position takes time."
Maddon said that the job of the bench coach, when done properly, is a very productive coaching spot.
"I don't know if everybody does it as productively as we do or he does," Maddon said. "I think sometimes, it could be the drinking buddy, maybe once in a while, a piece of advice. But he has a lot more involvement than that. ... Believe me, those teams that don't take advantage of that position properly, it amazes me, because it can be so productive -- and he's been so good at it."
Maddon called Martinez "extremely loyal," and said he has a great baseball acumen.
"He knows the game inside and out," Maddon said. "And I used to talk about [Milwaukee manager Ron] Roenicke like this. He sees things. Certain guys see things in advance of the moment. Others need your post moment. You got to see 'em before they ever occur. He sees things."
Martinez, 47, has been the team's bench coach since 2008. He is the seventh bench coach in team history -- and the longest tenured. Martinez was an original Devil Rays player, and played 16 seasons in the Major Leagues with eight different teams from 1986-2001.
Kotchman, who led all Major League first basemen with a .998 fielding percentage, made two tough defensive plays during the first inning of Monday's game. His diving grab toward the first-base line on Michael Young's liner prevented a run from scoring with a man on second and two outs. For the first out of the frame, Kotchman momentarily lost the ball in the lights, but recovered to work around the fence in foul territory and make the catch on Ian Kinsler's popup.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. Christina De Nicola is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.