Notes: Howell vying for rotation spot
Lefty battling Hammel, Sonnanstine, Jackson and Niemann
ST. PETERSBURG -- J.P. Howell is one of the contenders for the fourth and fifth spots in the Rays' rotation, along with Jason Hammel, Andy Sonnanstine, Edwin Jackson and Jeff Niemann.
Howell, 24, knows the situation and what he needs to do.
"I'm fighting for a job again," Howell said. "It's kind of what I've been doing the last three years."
While Howell is being considered for a starting role and has not been a reliever, the left-hander said he would be receptive to a move to the bullpen.
"I'd jump into that bullpen and try to help this team win any way I can," Howell said. "The No. 1 thing is to win. That's the focus."
Most organizations want to exhaust all possibilities prior to converting a starter into a reliever. Even so, Howell's competitive nature, plus the fact he's left-handed, gives him the appearance of a perfect candidate for the bullpen.
Though Howell would like to settle into wherever he is to spend the rest of his career, he is not frustrated that the Rays have not decided if he should go to the bullpen, even though he might have a better chance at pitching in the Major Leagues this season if such a move is made.
"I think they're handling it right," Howell said. "When the time comes, they'll make a decision. If the time comes and I end up starting, that's fine. Or if they need a guy in the bullpen who's a lefty, I'm ready for that, too."
Reserve role: Eric Hinske is in camp looking to earn one of two roles. First, if he can show he still has what it takes to be a third baseman, he could be a candidate to play third if Evan Longoria does not win the starting job. In addition, the veteran could land a role as bench player. Hinske, who was a reserve for the Red Sox in 2007 and struggled offensively, said being a bench player requires a different mind-set.
"You have to learn how to be a bench player," Hinske said. "And it's tougher in the American League, because you're not going to get as many pinch-hits as you would in the National League. You have to be ready to play every day if you're in the National League. I think I only had like 10 pinch-hit appearances last year for Boston -- [they sent the] same nine out there every day. Most of the time I'd go in, it was to give Manny [Ramirez] a break when we were ahead by a lot. You know, my average was terrible last year. The only thing I can attribute that to was not playing a lot, and my timing."
Having experienced the role, Hinske now believes he could better handle such a situation.
Navvy's secret: Understanding how important the coming year is for him, Dioner Navarro worked hard on his diet during the offseason, and the Rays' starting catcher looks slimmer in his uniform this spring. According to Navarro, he tried to not eat his meals too late at night and he watched what foods he ate.
"Being Latino, we like the fried chicken and the rice and beans," Navarro said. "It's not like I'm not doing [eating those foods] anymore. But there's certain times of the day."
Floyd's duty: Cliff Floyd is a veteran of three postseasons -- as a member of the Marlins' 1997 World Series championship club, the '06 Mets and '07 Cubs. His locker is next to Carl Crawford's, and the Rays hope the players will tap into his veteran knowledge. While Floyd does not dismiss being someone to provide veteran leadership, he feels he has a more important role on the team.
"[Being a veteran] is a good thing," Floyd said. "[But] I think they expect me to come in here and help them win, not come in here and try to be what [a veteran] might be. They want me to play and help this team, and that's what I'm looking forward to doing. So I'm looking forward to winning."
This and that: In case you were wondering after seeing Floyd's expansive shoulders, he wears a size 50 jacket. ... Infield/third-base coach Tom Foley and B.J. Upton have been jawing back and forth about the prospect of Foley bleaching his salt-and-pepper-colored hair blond. Upton claims he will cut his hair into a Mohawk if Foley takes the challenge. ... Juan Salas, Joel Guzman and Willy Aybar are still not in camp due to visa problems. ... Troy Percival and Scott Kazmir will start Tuesday's intrasquad game at the Raymond A. Naimili Baseball Complex, and James Shields and Matt Garza will start Wednesday's game. Edwin Jackson will start Friday's first exhibition game against the Reds in Sarasota. Kazmir will then start the home exhibition opener against the Blue Jays in St. Petersburg on March 1 and Shields will start against the Pirates on March 2 in Bradenton.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.