Howell takes role as mentor seriously

Howell takes role as mentor seriously

CHICAGO -- It doesn't get much better for a Major Leaguer than to still be in uniform in late October, and it doesn't get much worse than to be cut from the roster for the postseason after spending the regular season in the foxhole for each battle.

Dodgers reliever J.P. Howell is both as his club resumes the National League Championship Series tonight, needing to win both remaining games of the best-of-seven series against the Cubs to reach the World Series.

NLCS Game 6: Tonight 8 ET/5 PT on FS1

But even without throwing a pitch, Howell contributes to just about every Dodgers victory through his unique friendship with teammate and closer Kenley Jansen. In size, background and pitching style they are about as dissimilar as presidential candidates. So why the bond?

Game Date Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 15 CHC 8, LAD 4 video
Gm 2 Oct. 16 LAD 1, CHC 0 video
Gm 3 Oct. 18 LAD 6, CHC 0 video
Gm 4 Oct. 19 CHC 10, LAD 2 video
Gm 5 Oct. 20 CHC 8, LAD 4 video
Gm 6 Oct. 22 CHC 5, LAD 0 video

"J.P. takes a lot of the insecurity out of me since he got here," said the 29-year-old Jansen, a converted catcher from Curacao who was entering his first full season as a closer in 2013 when Howell was signed by the Dodgers.

"You can ask him, I know him good. I can get people out, but sometimes you have that insecurity in you and I was young [25] in 2013 when he came here. Since then, me and him, we have a great bond together. I was insecure with myself pitching out there. And I was too sensitive. He slowed me down and taught me so many things."

Howell dresses, stretches, shags and hangs in the bullpen with all of the other Dodgers relievers before and during each game, but when the phone rings he knows it's not for him. He didn't like it, but with a climbing ERA (4.09) and WHIP (1.40) in 2016, he was passed over by lefties Grant Dayton, Luis Avilan and Alex Wood.

"Those guys earned it more than I did," said the 33-year-old Howell, a situational lefty from Modesto, Calif. "That was the right move and I support that move. Just to be here is a privilege to me, I took this as a gift. It is tough not to play. I've been in a bunch of playoffs. If this was my first, I might have a different attitude. Just the fact I was allowed to travel showed some loyalty and I want to give back that loyalty."

Howell is not just along for the ride. He's trying to help each day just by being J.P.

"I try to lead by demeanor," he said. "I still pretend like I'm active, do my throwing routine, my workout, prepare as if I'm active. That might sound funny, but I think that's a motivator. I see [Clayton Kershaw] in the gym, he's my guy, he's my motivator. Now it's my turn. I'll talk to guys after every outing, and if I see something bad, I won't sugarcoat it, even if it hurts.

"The veterans, you just hang with them. The young guys, they don't know what to say or think. And if you hear those things that hurt, you'll stick around a long time. And they should be able to come up to me and tell me, 'I'm doing something wrong or correct.'"

An 11-year veteran, Howell has pitched in five previous postseasons, including the 2008 World Series with Tampa Bay for current Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. He'll be a free agent after this season.

"Ten years ago, no chance I would have handled this. I was too selfish," said Howell. "I would not have seen the beauty in what this experience brought me. I cherish this, this is like Christmas, this is it, this is beautiful. There's a lot that will carry me through the next years of my career, just because I had to do this. It was tough, I had to shove everything at the door, had to check it, but it's a learning experience and I just want to be an example that's correct."

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.