ST. PETERSBURG -- Manny Ramirez was a late scratch from Wednesday's lineup against the Angels. Originally slated to be the designated hitter, the veteran slugger was given the day off after an early-morning meeting with Joe Maddon concerned the Tampa Bay skipper.

"I know it's early in the season, but I still think he's pressing a bit," Maddon said. "I really think he's trying to carry too much of this load right now. I want him to understand that I'm seeing that, that I think he's trying way too hard. All I want him to do is his part, nobody else's part, that we all can take care of ourselves here.

"I just believe he's trying to shoulder too much of the burden right now, and I don't want him to do that."

Maddon said the tip-offs included watching his designated hitter begin to swing at pitches he "normally wouldn't chase."

Ramirez is 1-for-16 over the season's first four games, though that hit produced one of just six Rays RBIs through Tuesday. He'll also miss Thursday's game, the first of a four-game road trip against the Chicago White Sox, although Maddon said that absence will be due to personal matters.

Ramirez won't fly to Chicago with the Rays after Wednesday's game, but he is slated to rejoin his teammates before Friday's contest.

Maddon was quick to point out that despite the early-season funk, Ramirez is still the same guy who has 555 homers, 1,831 RBIs and 2,574 hits -- 1,122 of those for extra bases.

"With guys like him, I think we forget," Maddon said. "It's not easy to be him sometimes. He's not a potential Hall of Famer -- he will be a Hall of Famer. He's in the latter part of his career, so you're going to have different kind of moments, mentally.

"I've been around players like that in the past, and I think at some point it takes a different understanding from whomever's working with them. From me to him, I just want him to understand that I do know what he's going through, and I want to help him out."

Howell throws 35-pitch session, says he 'feels great'

ST. PETERSBURG -- Left-hander J.P. Howell's year-long rehab from shoulder surgery is finally nearing completion.

Howell, expected to be a linchpin of the Rays' new-look relief corps, threw a 35-pitch bullpen session prior to Wednesday's game and "felt great," prompting manager Joe Maddon to comment that Howell will likely begin to face live hitters after Tampa Bay concludes its upcoming seven-game road trip.

"It's going to be appropriate: We'll try to stretch him out properly and make sure that it's all well, try not to rush him back too quickly, that kind of stuff," Maddon said of Howell's return.

Howell, 27, had season-ending surgery to repair a torn left labrum on May 19, 2010. The spirited reliever had originally set the same date this season for his return, but Tampa Bay has been extra cautious with Howell's rehabilitation to avoid setbacks. Should all go well the rest of the week (Howell will pitch in the 'pen again on Friday and Sunday), he'll progress to pitching live.

From there, Howell will move to a handful of Minor League tuneups and, barring any setbacks, he appears likely to be cleared to rejoin the Rays around the end of May.

With so little time remaining before Howell rejoins the team, Maddon admitted that it's hard to hold him back.

"He's champing at the bit, pretty much," Maddon said. "You know what his personality's like, so... We want to have him back, too, but we want to have him back for the rest of the year and for years to come."