MIAMI – Left-hander J.P. Howell returned to the mound Friday for the Tampa Bay Rays, one year and one day after he underwent surgery to repair a left shoulder injury that sidelined him all of last season.
Hours after being activated, Howell pitched a scoreless sixth inning in the Rays' 5-3 loss at Florida.
"It's not as fun when you lose, but it's still a great time," he said.
Howell led all major-league relievers with 13 wins in 2008-09. He was a key member of Tampa Bay's AL championship team in 2008 and had 17 saves in 2009.
"He's very valuable to us," manager Joe Maddon said. "I can visualize him pitching like he did a couple of years ago and being that crucial to our success."
The Rays also optioned right-hander Rob Delaney to Triple-A Durham. Outfielder Justin Ruggiano's contract was selected from Durham, and infielder Dan Johnson was designated for assignment.
Maddon said the Rays hope to keep Johnson in the organization. Ruggiano hit .301 with six homers and 11 stolen bases in 37 games for Durham.
Howell prepared for his return by pitching nine times during a rehabilitation stint, most recently Tuesday for Class A Charlotte. After pitching against the Marlins, he said his shoulder felt fine.
"I've still got a little adrenaline," he said. "I think it's a good sign what I feel right now, but the next day tells you a lot more."
Howell bolsters a bullpen that already ranked fourth in the AL with a 3.20 ERA heading into the start of a weekend series against the Florida Marlins.