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Dodgers' J.P. Howell is glad to be pitching a lot

Los Angeles DodgersSportsJ.P. HowellBaseballMajor League BaseballSan Diego PadresPhiladelphia Phillies
J.P. Howell, the Dodgers' left-handed setup man, underwent major shoulder surgery in 2010
J.P. Howell has changed his habits since the operation, on and off the field
He has a 1.27 ERA in 59 games, the lowest on the Dodgers

If J.P. Howell pitches Friday night in the Dodgers' series opener against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park, the game will be his 60th of the season.

No Dodgers pitcher has appeared in as many games as Howell, the team's left-handed setup man.

"It looks a lot worse than it is," Howell said. "It's not that bad, actually."

Howell, who leads the first-place Dodgers with a 1.27 earned-run average, knows what bad feels like.

While in spring training with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010, he felt some discomfort in his throwing shoulder. That was after making a career-high 69 appearances in 2009. A couple of months later, he underwent major surgery to repair his labrum. He was told he had only a 15% chance of pitching in the major leagues again.

As it turns out, the injury that nearly ended his career might be responsible for extending it. The thought of never pitching again terrified him.

"It was scary, man," Howell said.

Howell, 31, compared his seasons leading up to his injury to pitching in Little League. "I wasn't into working out," he said. "I was just throwing and having fun and being young. I would just show up."

Howell's surgery was performed by famed orthopedic specialist James Andrews. To recover, Howell spent six months rehabilitating at Andrews' medical facility in Birmingham, Ala.

"It was the coolest thing ever, learning about my arm," Howell said.

Howell worked closely with physical therapist Kevin Wilk.

Wilk taught him exercises to strengthen his rotator cuff, as well as his lower body. Howell incorporated those exercises into a pregame routine that he has stayed with.

"I even changed how I eat," he said. "I'm getting older. I have to do the little things now."

For a 7 p.m. home game, Howell arrives at Dodger Stadium around 2:30. His first order of business is to work out his shoulder.

He then takes part in pregame warmups with his teammates, stretching and throwing.

Once batting practice is over and the Dodgers return to the clubhouse, the real work starts.

"I do 10 minutes of sprints, then I do my lower-half lifting," he said. "I do seven reps as heavy as I can go. Then you do core. Then you do sauna. You stretch again. Then it's game time."

Howell is also more studious than he was as a young pitcher. Rather than rely solely on memory and instinct, he prepares for opposing hitters by taking more time to review scouting reports and devise plans of attack.

"I used to go out there and just play," he said.

Howell, who is in his third season with the Dodgers, said he wants to pitch in as many games as possible over the final stretch of the regular season.

"I love it," he said. "This is a great time of year. Football's on. It's just fun. You see the weather starting to change a little bit. This is the whole reason you play, to get the opportunity to go to the playoffs and conquer everybody in the playoffs."

Here's the deal

The Dodgers completed their Aug. 7 trade for Roberto Hernandez, sending minor league right-hander Victor Arano to the Philadelphia Phillies as the second of two players to be named. Arano, 19, was 4-7 with a 4.08 ERA with Class-A Great Lakes. The first player the Dodgers sent to the Phillies was 20-year-old infielder Jesmuel Valentin, the 51st overall selection in the 2012 draft.

UP NEXT: Dan Haren (11-10, 4.44 ERA) will face Andrew Cashner (2-6, 2.43) and the Padres on Friday at Petco Park at 7 p.m. On the air: TV: SportsNet LA. Radio: 570, 1020.

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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Los Angeles DodgersSportsJ.P. HowellBaseballMajor League BaseballSan Diego PadresPhiladelphia Phillies
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