The club signed the veteran reliever to a one-year contract on Friday, and he joined the team in Texas for the start of an Interleague series against the Rangers. It's Howry's second stint with the Cubs; he pitched with the team from 2006-08.
General manager Jim Hendry, who has been looking for an experienced right-handed reliever since the offseason, contacted Howry shortly after he was designated for assignment by the Arizona Diamondbacks.
"I wouldn't be here if I didn't think I could [still pitch]," Howry said Friday. "It's not a situation where you're doing it to make a paycheck. If I didn't think I could pitch, I wouldn't come back."
Howry, 36, posted a 10.67 ERA in 14 games with Arizona. In 14 1/3 innings, he gave up 17 runs on 18 hits and six walks. He also served up six home runs. What happened?
"You can't blame it on velocity," Howry said. "Almost every year, at the beginning of the season, my velocity is down. If you execute your pitches and hit locations, then you can still be successful. Unfortunately, I didn't hit my spots as well as I needed to and just kind of steamrolled."
Cubs manager Lou Piniella said Howry will be used in middle relief for now but could eventually be a late-inning option. In an effort to bridge the gap to closer Carlos Marmol, the Cubs moved Opening Day starter Carlos Zambrano to a setup role on April 22. That didn't work, and Zambrano will return to the rotation once he builds up arm strength. Howry could help set up Marmol.
"One thing we noticed about Bob was as the summer progressed, he pitched better," Piniella said. "I'm happy to have him back here."
Howry was 17-17 with a 3.90 ERA in 234 games with the Cubs from 2006-08. He struggled the last season and compiled a 5.35 ERA.
"Out of the three years I was here, the first two went pretty well," Howry said. "The last one, I struggled. You never know what the organization thinks about you. Whether they like you as a person is one thing; whether you can still pitch is another."
"I enjoyed having him in our clubhouse as a player and a person," Piniella said. "He's A-1. ... I don't know why he didn't pitch well in Arizona. We'll give him an opportunity here. He's had good success with Larry Rothschild, our pitching coach, and hopefully he can come back to the form that he had here a few years for us. He pitched well."
The Cubs optioned rookie right-hander Justin Berg to Triple-A Iowa to make room on the 25-man roster for Howry, and right-hander David Patton was designated for assignment to open a spot on the 40-man roster. In 13 big league seasons, Howry has a 45-49 record and 3.79 ERA.
He didn't become a couch potato after the D-backs' move but played catch Tuesday and threw a bullpen on Wednesday. He wasn't surprised by the decision.
"We had to do something to get the bullpen out of the rut it was in," Howry said. "I really wasn't surprised by it."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.