Pitcher Steve Howe, saying he could "not effectively handle many of the pressures" he feels playing in Los Angeles, was unconditionally released yesterday by the Dodgers.

Howe, who had been suspended for the 1984 season because of cocaine abuse, mysteriously was absent for Sunday's game against the Atlanta Braves.

He and his attorney, Jim Hawkins, met with Dodgers officials Monday morning, but there was no explanation from either side why Howe missed the game. Hawkins did say, however, that Howe had passed a drug test administered Monday.

Dodgers' Executive Vice President Fred Claire, explaining the club's decision to release Howe, said in a prepared statement: "After carefully considering all options, we have concluded that this is the best course of action for all concerned.

"We were advised by Howe and his representative, Jim Hawkins, that Steve does not feel that he can any longer handle the pressure of playing in Los Angeles . . . "

There were reports the 27-year-old former relief ace had been battling depression. He recovered slowly from his offseason arm surgery and had been hit hard recently.

The Los Angeles Times today quoted a source close to the team as saying that Howe's recent behavior -- another time, he didn't show up until the sixth inning -- stemmed from depression. "He cried like a baby after he gave up that home run last Friday," the unnamed source told the newspaper. "He was utterly depressed. And people do a lot of bizarre things when they're depressed."

In a statement by Howe that also was released by the Dodgers, he said: "After endless struggles within myself to give the Dodgers the maximum talent I felt they deserved, I feel the utmost appreciation for them helping me to get a fresh start.

"I have found it necessary to advise the Dodgers that I could not effectively handle many of the pressures I have here in the Los Angeles area," Howe said. "Los Angeles is full of my friends and supporters. Regretfully, I daily encounter situations which cause me deep pain.

"I believe my continuing improvement demands a relocation and a reduction of stress."

Unless some other club claims him, the Dodgers will pay Howe the balance of his current $325,000 salary for 1985.