BOSTON -- Two weeks after announcing that Kelly Shoppach would not catch much for the remainder of the season, Rays manager Joe Maddon allowed that he has changed that stance.
Throughout the course of the Red Sox series, Rays catchers John Jaso and Jose Lobaton have struggled both offensively and defensively. Hoping to correct the problems behind the plate, Shoppach started Sunday and he will be used more for the remainder of the season, according to Maddon.
"We had brought up Loby and Jaso had been playing more and part of that we thought possibly offensively we would get a little more out of those two guys," Maddon said. "Again, it's not been a lot of at-bats for Lobaton nor has Jaso had a ton overall. But right now, one of the biggest reasons we win games is because we play great defense. So I chose to go with Shoppach today. Although with Wakefield it was an easier get because Wakefield versus righties, the numbers are more in our favor putting a righty in there as opposed to a lefty. So that was easy today.
"But moving forward, we'll see how this all works out because we cannot sacrifice behind the plate if in fact we're not going to pick it up at the plate."
Maddon was asked if he was disappointed in Jaso's play this season.
"It's not been his better year," Maddon said. "Last year he started to do some things really well, both offensively and defensively. My god, he was our leadoff hitter and really did a great job with that. He was on base a lot -- great baserunning. All of that. I thought his defense had gotten a lot better, too. But he has struggled a little bit more this year on both ends, offensively and defensively. We've got to work hard to get all of that back. He's been doing his work, we do talk to him, etc. But for whatever reason, it's just not at the same caliber it was last year at the same time."
Could Jaso lose the confidence of the pitching staff, particularly in his ability to block pitches in the dirt?
"He had a couple of tough games here, but he's been blocking pretty good overall," Maddon said. "I can't dispute his blocking. He's actually done a pretty good job with that. The biggest difference has been his throwing. Shoppach has a real edge on throwing. Lobaton hasn't really been tested. But Shoppach has really thrown well this year."
Shoppach has thrown out 15 of 37 attempted base stealers. Jaso has thrown out two of the last 19 attempted base stealers since June 18 and 8-for-58 (13.8 percent) this season, which ranks as the second-lowest percentage among qualifying Major League catchers.
Howell pleased with progress since returning
BOSTON -- Rays reliever J.P. Howell lost Tuesday night for the first time since June 5 at Seattle when he surrendered a two-run homer to Matt Wieters in Baltimore.
"Changeup away," Howell said. "It was a 1-1 count. My past experiences with him, I thought changeup with him, if I miss, he's going to yank it foul because he's so edgy. But obviously, that's a year and a half ago and he's more mature. He waited a little longer than a rookie would. He's not a rookie any more. Write that note down and remember that the next time I face him again."
A bad moment for Howell, but he's been doing well lately, even though that performance is difficult to see in his 2-3 record with a 6.37 ERA. Since July 29, Howell has held opposing batters to a .179 average, which is encouraging for the left-hander, who made his season debut May 20 after missing the 2010 season due to left shoulder surgery.
"I've had a pretty good run since about Aug. 1. I've been more on par with what I'd like to be all year long," Howell said. "But I had such a rough start, everything is going to look bad at the end of the season. The numbers for this year to me look worse than what they are. You've got to look at the latest and I've been happy with that."
Giving up the homer to Wieters was a blip on what Howell has been doing lately, but he has a good perspective about how things are going.
"I had a good run and then they got me the other night," he said. "Now I just have to start another run."
Kyle Farnsworth (elbow) threw 40 tosses at 60 feet on Sunday and there is optimism he could soon be back as the team's closer. "We have the day off [Monday] and we'll see where he's at Tuesday in New York," manager Joe Maddon said.
Desmond Jennings has scored two runs in each of his last five games against Boston, which matches the longest such streak against the Red Sox since 1919. Also turning the trick were Jose Canseco, with the Rangers and Athletics in '94 and '97, and Tommy Heinrich with the Yankees in '48.
The Rays will wear their "TB" lettermen sweaters on Sunday on the train to New York. The sweaters were designed by Maddon as part of the club's tradition of themed road trips.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.