Left-hander J.P. Howell was an integral part of a revamped bullpen for the AL East champion Rays, posting a 2.22 ERA and a 6-1 record over 64 games in relief this season. After working as a starter in 2005 with the Royals and from 2006-07 with Tampa, Howell switched to the bullpen heading into the '08 season and he struck out 92 batters in 89 1/3 innings. He recently answered some questions from MLBPLAYERS.com.

MLBPLAYERS.com: You switched from starter to reliever prior to the start of this season. Can you talk about this new role?

Howell: My role as a reliever is one that I understand a bit more than that of a starter. When I was a starting pitcher, it was an uphill battle for me to go seven innings. If I wasn't able to go those seven innings, I felt that I was hurting the team and especially the bullpen. As a reliever I can come in and eat some innings up or come in to get a lefty out. I like having a definite role.

MLBPLAYERS.com: Can you talk about the success you have enjoyed as a reliever?

Howell: I think that in the past, the first three innings of a start I was only giving up a couple of hits here and there. I would run in to some trouble in the fourth or fifth inning by giving up several runs. I think they noticed that I was solid in the beginning and would fall apart in the middle. I believe a lot of that has to do with my approach to the game. As I get older and more experienced, I learn from that. I've learned from both my experiences and my failures. Whenever I pitched this season, I took something from each appearance.

MLBPLAYERS.com: Is working out of the bullpen something you envision yourself doing for quite a bit of time?

Howell: There's no doubt in my mind that I want to be coming out of the bullpen down the line. I love the situations I come into. The intensity is something that can't really be explained. It's short situations with instant gratification -- if you get the job done. As a starter, I think I would lose focus around the fourth and fifth inning, which ultimately was my downfall. I love the mental aspect of coming out of the bullpen. I wouldn't change it for anything.

MLBPLAYERS.com: What it is like to be down in the 'pen for nine innings a night?

Howell: It's a bonding experience for me. They've taught me so much out there. Dan Wheeler, who used to be the long guy for the Mets, came in and gave me a ton of information. It's been an easy transition for me. I can sit back, watch the game, and pick apart the opposing hitters.

MLBPLAYERS.com: Going back to when you started playing this game, have you always been a pitcher?

Howell: I was never a standout hitter. I usually hit around .300 in high school. I knew growing up that if I was going to succeed, not only in high school but in the Majors as well, that it would be with my arm and not my bat. It's something that I've always loved and always wanted to do. I would rather throw than be the hitter.

MLBPLAYERS.com: What do you like to do when you are not playing baseball during the season?

Howell: I like to enjoy the clear water at the beaches in Tampa. I try to relax and enjoy life. There's a lot of stuff to do there and I just like to take it one day at a time. Tampa reminds me a lot of California, where I'm originally from. It's been an easy transition for me to move there and get comfortable.

MLBPLAYERS.com: Where do you live over the winter and what is a typical day like?

Howell: I make my home in Sacramento in the offseason. I usually wake up around 7:30 in the morning and go lift weights for a few hours. I like to hang out with my mom and have lunch with her. My girlfriend is really busy, so I try to make as much time for her as I can. I love playing video games and spending time with my friends from high school whenever I can. Sometimes I'll wait until they get off from work and go shoot some pool with them.

MLBPLAYERS.com: What is your favorite video game?

Howell: Right now it's Call of Duty 4. All my friends and I get on-line together and have a blast. It's a team bonding type of thing.

MLBPLAYERS.com: Seeing that you are from Sacramento, are you a big Kings fan?

Howell: Yeah, I'm a huge Sacramento Kings fan. I hate the Lakers even though I rooted for them during the NBA Finals because I wanted a West Coast team to win. I had hoped that they would have pulled if off. The Lakers, though, killed me in that series against the Kings when Robert Horry hit that huge 3-pointer. We also have some cowbells at Tropicana Field like we do at Arco Arena, so it's kind of funny.

MLBPLAYERS.com: Have you ever been called by your given name of James Phillips?

Howell: It's always been J.P. On my mom's side we have Uncle Dave and Little Dave. We have Uncle Paul and Little Paul. Instead of giving me one of those monikers they gave me J.P. since I was the second. I suppose I could have been Little James but I like J.P. better.

Jeff Moeller is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.