02/28/09 5:00 PM EST
Howell, Aybar leave camp for Classic
Rays' Maddon says duo will be in good hands during tournament
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
"I'm happy to be playing for Team USA, but it is kind of tough to leave," Howell said. "The trash talking is getting to a peak right now. Everybody's getting comfortable. It's at the point now where it starts to be real fun. It is tough to leave, especially after a season like last year. Now is when you kind of bond and figure things out."Aybar said he was excited about reporting to the Dominican Republic's team, noting most of the players on his team are his friends. Playing in the Classic is more of a concern for pitchers than position players, for obvious reasons. "I was worried about getting too much work," Howell said. "And [the Rays] worried about me getting enough. And that's a good problem, I think, in this situation this year." Howell feels like he's ahead of schedule for where he normally is at this juncture of Spring Training. "Usually I'm trying to make the team," Howell said. "Knowing that I'm on the team, I'm ahead of where I would be if I wasn't doing this." Howell added that he's more "mentally dialed in" earlier than usual. "I'm not as relaxed," Howell said. "I'm nervous before the games, where normally I would be just hanging out and enjoying the moment." Howell chuckled when a reporter asked if he had been doing any early Classic trash talking. "Willy's been looking at me funny this whole spring," Howell said. "I'm a little nervous about what he's thinking. So, I don't know man. We'll find out." Rays manager Joe Maddon didn't sound too concerned about either player playing in the Classic, and, in particular, Howell, who will be under the tutelage of pitching coach Marcel Lachemann. "Marcel is one of the best ever," Maddon said. "He taught me pretty much what I know about pitching. And I feel pretty comfortable about my knowledge of pitching. He's really able to break it down. He just has a unique ability to break it down. He was really a great preparer for a series, a game or a series. "Truly a unique man, straight up as they come. If you don't want to hear the answer, don't ask him, because he's going to tell you. So, I feel really good about him. Anytime any Major League pitcher goes to him for this event, they might learn something new." Maddon believes Aybar is ready to go, noting that the Rays utilityman played all winter. "Willy's a baseball player," Maddon said. "This is what he loves to do. He's not going to be overused. The way the tournament is set up, you don't get abused by any means."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.