Sports

Blue Jays reliever Howell looking forward to "rowdy" Rogers Centre crowd

DUNEDIN, Fla. — J.P. Howell is looking forward to sitting in the home bullpen at Rogers Centre for a change.

The new Blue Jays left-hander, who spent six seasons playing for the division rival Tampa Bay Rays from 2006-2012, spent his fair share of time in the visitor's bullpen, located within shouting distance of the right-field stands at the Toronto stadium.

"It's tough being an opponent in there, the fans are pretty cutthroat," Howell said on Wednesday after his first official workout with his new team. "They do their research there.

"They say some personal things, they know Google, they check it out, they definitely do. It's interesting going there, I don't even want to say it's a hockey vibe but it's a rowdy vibe."

Howell couldn't name a specific insult he'd heard from the Rogers Centre crowd over the years. Not that he didn't remember them, though.

"They're all rated-R," he said, drawing laughter from reporters. "They get to you, they get to you and it makes it a little wavy out there, a little emotional, and that's what we want."

Toronto signed Howell, a free agent, to a US$3 million, one-year deal earlier this month.

The 33-year-old California native will slot into the hole left in the bullpen by the departure of fellow southpaw Brett Cecil, who signed a free-agent deal with the St. Louis Cardinals this off-season.

Howell spent the last four years with the Los Angeles Dodgers, going 14-6 with a 2.49 earned-run average over that span. He had a career-best 1.43 ERA through 44 innings in 2015.

Howell brings plenty of post-season experience to the Blue Jays. He pitched into the World Series with Tampa in 2008, the American League Division Series with the Rays in 2011, the National League Championship Series with the Dodgers in 2013 and the NLDS with L.A. in 2014 and 2015.

He referred to Toronto, which reached the ALCS the last two seasons, as his top choice for a free-agent deal.

Howell played with only one current Blue Jay in the past — Melvin Upton Jr. in Tampa Bay — but he's familiar with the rest of the roster, either through experience pitching against them or through reputation.

"This was my No. 1 spot I wanted to go to because of the style they play," Howell said. "Really aggressive, real hungry, just doing what they do, not worrying what people think.

"That's how I like to play. It's a lot of fun to be around."

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