ST. PETERSBURG -- The last time Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said he took batting practice was when he was 12 or 13.
That was 40 years ago.
Buckhorn was on hand to take batting practice at Tropicana Field before Friday's game between the Rays and Mariners, and he said he felt like he made some good cuts.
"I felt great," Buckhorn said. "I got a little wood on the ball."
The mayor is no stranger to the Rays or Tropicana Field, having previously thrown out the first pitch. With concerns about whether the current ballpark is a viable long-term home for the club, Buckhorn said he wouldn't mind doing drills in a facility across the bay.
"It would be a great honor to have batting practice at a Rays facility in Tampa," Buckhorn said. "The Rays and St. Pete have to resolve their differences, and if they can't, we will be ready. ... A lot of people care about what happens."
If Buckhorn was certain about one thing, it was that the team will be in either St. Petersburg or Tampa for years to come, saying there was no chance the two cities would let the team relocate from the community anytime soon.
"We want [the public] to understand the Rays are a regional asset," Buckhorn said. "We want them to remain the Tampa Bay Rays. We're not gonna let that team go to Charlotte, Las Vegas or anywhere else. That is our team, and we intend to keep it our team. However it works out and wherever it works out is yet to be determined, but as far as I'm concerned, we're going to do everything we have to do to protect the viability of this franchise, whether it's in St. Petersburg or whether it's in Tampa."
Howell feeling strong, puts up shutout streak
ST. PETERSBURG -- J.P. Howell looks like he finally is back.
The gritty left-handed reliever experienced mixed results in 2011 after sitting out 2010 following shoulder surgery. Entering Friday night's action, Howell had not allowed a run over his last 12 outings dating back to June 14 and his current 14-inning scoreless streak is the longest by a Rays reliever this season.
"I don't even really know what I'm doing, I go off feel," Howell said. "I know what everything should feel like."
Howell had one prolonged good stretch in 2011, but he said this current stretch is the best he's felt since the surgery and it came on the heels of a stretch that saw him allow 11 runs in eight innings over 12 appearances from May 12 to June 13.
"I can put sequences together and I wasn't able to do that this whole time," Howell said. "I've had to pretty much beat the guy on talent. And that's really hard to do. My curveball, I'd just try and overmatch people and beat him to the spot rather than trying to make his body react certain ways and making the hitter do certain things."
In hindsight, Howell said he wasn't totally back when he thought he was in the past.
"If you get one good inning you think you're back," Howell said. "It came down to whether I was actually executing my pitches or not. And I wasn't. Whether I wasn't capable of it, or I just hadn't found it at the time, I'll never know. I don't know if I was able and just wasn't doing it, or just really not understanding my mechanics."
The mental component has been a challenging aspect for Howell to deal with as well.
"It's now about being consistent and mentally strong, which I wasn't," Howell said. "I've been mentally strong this year, but there have been times where I've been up and down. And if you want to be consistent, you can't do that.
"I knew I was kind of going into the boxing ring without a plan. And that's no fun. That's not me. I always have to have a plan and prepare. It was just kind of going in there naked. ... It's pretty much taken me about this long to understand where I'm at. And really get my emotions in check also."
Rays manager Joe Maddon said he had a lot of talks with Howell last year.
"It wasn't easy for him because he's always been successful," Maddon said. "And then to not be successful and not being able to get the feel he wanted or the results he was looking for, all those things are tough for an athlete.
"But I never stopped believing in him as a guy and as a competitor. He's going to keep getting better. As long as he stays healthy you're going to see him probably pitch at as good or better a level than he did in 2008."
Maddon to be cautious with Joyce on turf
ST. PETERSBURG -- Matt Joyce was back in the lineup Friday after Rays manager Joe Maddon gave the outfielder a day off Thursday, a 6-0 win over the Indians.
Joyce, who missed time because of an oblique injury, was taken off the 15-day disabled list prior to Tuesday's game. After an 0-for-3 day, Joyce played again Wednesday, but Maddon didn't want to overwork Joyce by having him play a third straight day.
"We still have to watch him over the next couple days to make sure we don't beat him up on this stuff out here," Maddon said about Joyce playing on the artificial turf. "The back can really take a beating on this stuff, so be careful with it."
He added that he doesn't believe there is any concern for Joyce's health, saying that Joyce would be ready to play any game with just a little more time.
Tampa Bay started a three-game weekend series with Seattle on Friday, but Maddon is confident that during the club's upcoming road trip, playing on natural grass will help each of his outfielders.
"Once we get on the grass, they're gonna be fine," Maddon said. "But in the meantime, we just don't want to break them right here."