ST. PETERSBURG -- Dioner Navarro's "two-day vacation" is over, and the catcher is back with the Rays after serving a two-game suspension for bumping an umpire Friday night.

Navarro missed both games of the Oakland series and said he was sorry for the actions that led to the suspension, but he is ready to get back on the field. He wore a brace on his knee before Thursday night's game, but he said there will be no limitations caused by the sore right leg that kept him out of two games prior to being suspended. If anything, Navarro said, the punishment worked out well because it gave him more time to heal.

"It worked out perfectly," Navarro said. "Obviously I wouldn't plan it that way, but it came out fine. I'm ready, excited, can't wait."

John Jaso got the start at catcher over Navarro against Kansas City, simply because of the way he has been playing lately, manager Joe Maddon said. Jaso, who was called up from Triple-A Durham when catcher Kelly Shoppach went on the 15-day disabled list, is batting .450 with three doubles, a home run, nine RBIs and six walks to just one strikeout.

"Navvy's ready to go tonight. I just chose to go with Jaso," Maddon said. "He's been hot, quite frankly. I just cannot walk away from Jaso right now. I told Navvy that straight-up, and he understood it. He's a great team player."

Howell's rehab looks to be on track

ST. PETERSBURG -- A day after throwing a bullpen session, as part of the rehab to heal his left shoulder, J.P. Howell said his progress was right on track.

The lefty reliever threw from 135 feet on flat ground and about 30 pitches from the mound, before Wednesday's game. He said he woke up Thursday morning, stretched out his left arm, and felt fine.

"I feel like I could pitch today, and that's what I want," Howell said. "I don't want to feel like I need three days off to be all right. Today's pretty good progress again."

After throwing only easy fastballs Wednesday, Howell will throw another bullpen session Friday, of about 35 to 40 pitches and mix in more changeups. He said he will start working in a curveball either next Wednesday or Thursday.

"Tomorrow, another bullpen, and that'll be another hurdle," Howell said. "I'm going to get through that, then we'll see how I feel on Saturday."

Howell said Wednesday he hopes to return by the end of May, but manager Joe Maddon wouldn't commit to a specific timeframe.

Maddon, Zobrist see funny side of hitting Bartlett

ST. PETERSBURG -- Ben Zobrist and manager Joe Maddon expressed an unusual emotion the day after a foul ball by Zobrist struck teammate Jason Bartlett in the back: disappointment.

Bartlett was on third base when Zobrist came to the plate for the final at-bat of Tampa Bay's six-run fifth inning Wednesday night against Oakland, and the switch-hitter nailed a pitch from A's reliever Brad Kilby directly into his teammate's lower back. A day later, Zobrist and Maddon joked about the fact that the line drive wasn't hit hard enough to do more damage than it did.

"I saw the mark on his back last night, and I was like, 'Is that all? Is that all it did?'" Zobrist said with a laugh. "I was like, 'Man, I would have hoped I would have gotten some seams on you or something.'"

Maddon jokingly added: "It's kind of disappointing, I think, that Zobrist gets him with his best shot, and he's able to play the next day."

Bartlett played the sixth inning before Sean Rodriguez came in to pinch-hit for him in the bottom of the seventh. Bartlett started at shortstop and led off the Rays' order in their Thursday night game against the Royals, so Zobrist and Maddon can now laugh about the incident. But Zobrist was far less amused at the time.

"I was shocked. It was so quick that I was hoping he was OK," Zobrist said. "Then, once I saw he was OK, he kind of gave me a nod like, 'Hey, the field's out there, buddy. Make sure you hit it in between those two lines.'"

Benoit thrilled to rejoin Rays

ST. PETERSBURG -- Joaquin Benoit had plenty of reasons to breathe a sigh of relief Wednesday night.

The right-handed reliever was called up from Triple-A Durham when the Rays optioned catcher Jose Lobaton. Benoit joined the team at Tropicana Field before Thursday night's game. The 32-year-old veteran left the Bulls, who were playing in Buffalo, N.Y. -- all the more reason for Benoit to be excited about the move.

"It's really a relief, first of all, because it was like 20 degrees in Buffalo. That's not really my weather," Benoit said. "To be up here, the change of scenery is great. The big leagues is the big leagues. You cannot have anything better than this."

Benoit was the last player left off the Rays' final 25-man roster at the end of Spring Training, and he said the time spent in the Minors should leave him better prepared for his new role out of Tampa Bay's bullpen.

"Being the last guy to get cut, it gives you some sense of, 'OK, I've got a chance to prove to myself that I belong there. So I went up there, tried to do the best I can."

Benoit, who spent all or parts of eight seasons with the Rangers from 2001-08, missed the entire 2009 season recovering from rotator cuff surgery. He pitched in eight games for Durham this year, going 0-1 with two saves, a 2.79 ERA and 17 strikeouts to just three walks in 9.2 innings of work.

The righty pitched on back-to-back days just once with the Bulls, and he said he would most likely be ready to take the mound every other day for the Rays. Manager Joe Maddon said it would depend primarily on his workload in his first appearance. If he throws 20 to 25 pitches, he won't go back-to-back, but he could be available if he only throws eight to 15 pitches in his first outing.

"I'm comfortable in a more high-leverage situation with him," Maddon said. "I do like him on lefties a lot. I'm not going to run away from the righties, but he's got a little [Rays right-handed reliever Lance] Cormier in him. He's that kind of a pitcher, although the velocity's better. He's been throwing up in the mid-90s in Durham."