Howell: Superior infield defence attracted me to Blue Jays

J.P. Howell remembers Jose Bautista taking him deep, and how rowdy the Rogers Centre crowd was to the opposing bullpen, but loves it all.

J.P. Howell waited a while to get a contract this past off-season. He took his time and weighed all options carefully before finally deciding to sign a one-year, $3-million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays.

The choice was made easy because of the team’s superior infield defence, Howell says.

“The defence we have behind us is the best in baseball at fielding ground balls,” Howell told Jeff Blair Wednesday morning on Sportsnet 590 The FAN. “That was [one] reason that was really attractive to come here is knowing the defence plays extremely well, especially for a ground ball pitcher like me.”

A strong infield consisting of Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis as regulars and potentially Justin Smoak, Darwin Barney and Ryan Goins, figures to be an upgrade for Howell over the 2016 Los Angeles Dodgers defence. That group largely included Adrian Gonzalez, Chase Utley, Corey Seager and Justin Turner.

Howell relies heavily on a fastball that averages 85.3 mph, in addition to his curveball. The left-hander had a groundball percentage of 59.1 per cent in 2016, just above his career average of 53.2.

He sported a 4.09 ERA over 50.2 innings last year, striking out 44 and actually fared better against right-handed batters, holding them to a .262 average, compared to the .302 mark by hitters from the left side.

Howell hasn’t yet discussed with Blue Jays management how he’ll be deployed out of the bullpen this season, but the 33-year-old says he was also keen on coming to Toronto because of the team’s string of playoff success the past two seasons.

“This is my third time doing the free agency thing,” said Howell, a native of Modesto, Calif. “This year for me it wasn’t too much about the money, it was about where am I going to fit and what team do I want to go to?

“The Blue Jays were the No. 1 team. Something caught my eye about them — obviously the winning, going to ALCS pretty consistently now. It’s very attractive for me.”

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The Jeff Blair Show
J. P. Howell looking forward to once again being in intense A. L. East
Originally aired February 22 2017