Reliever Steve Howe, five times suspended from professional baseball because of drug dependency, was called up yesterday by the Texas Rangers and could return to the mound by Friday night.

"Thank God for the Texas Rangers," said Howe, 29, accompanied by his wife, Cynthia Ann, and two daughters at a news conference.

Team officials said the Rangers purchased Howe's contract from Class AAA Oklahoma City and that he may pitch Friday night in Baltimore.

The Rangers decided to promote Howe yesterday, a day after team chairman Eddie Chiles and president Mike Stone met in New York with Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth.

At first, the commissioner's office said it was working on a statement. Later, spokesman Rich Levin said Ueberroth would have nothing immediately to say on the matter.

When the Rangers signed Howe, Ueberroth said the pitcher must prove he could function drug-free in a baseball environment for a "reasonable" amount of time.

His agent, John Lence, said Howe has been tested for drugs more than 15 times since being signed by the Rangers. All tests have been negative, Lence said.

Howe was NL rookie of the year with Los Angeles in 1980. He was suspended from baseball five times between 1983 and 1986, the last of which was lifted when he signed with the Rangers July 12.