3/3/2013 1:30 P.M. ET
Joyce feels ready for everyday role in lineup
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Matt Joyce came to the Rays looking to become an everyday player. To date, that status has eluded him.
However, this spring he feels closer than he ever has to reaching that goal. All he needs to do is convince the Rays.
"I'm going to have a good argument this year," Joyce said.
Since coming to the team in a December 2008 trade that sent Edwin Jackson to the Tigers, the most at-bats the left-handed-hitting Joyce has had in a season was the 462 he had in 2011.
Last season he had 399 at-bats of which 91 came against left-handers, whom he rarely gets to hit against. In 1,351 Major League at-bats, Joyce has just 234 against left-handers. Those chances against southpaws have netted Joyce a .201 average with six home runs and 36 RBIs.
Meanwhile, he has a career average of .265 with 55 home runs and 178 RBIs in 1,117 at-bats against right-handers.
Those results offer fairly compelling evidence that having Joyce play sparingly against left-handers might be the right idea. Joyce thinks otherwise.
"Without a doubt," Joyce said. "I think everything kind of comes together at different times for people. You spend enough time becoming a student of the game and looking at strengths and weaknesses of where you can improve and really learning about the game."
Joyce noted that he didn't form his opinion from being cocky.
"I'm just very confident because I've spent so much time preparing," Joyce said. "And I feel more comfortable than ever.
"I feel like I see the ball way better, just from playing ping pong almost every other day during the offseason. My depth perception and picking up the pitches is way better than it was at the end of the year. My mechanics are way better. I feel more flexible than ever. There are a lot of things that factor into it. But for me, I'm just excited to get the chance."
Joyce noted that "every year you kind of learn and improve."
"You adjust a little bit," Joyce said. "You learn from the previous year. For me and a lot of the guys, it's all about staying healthy."
Joyce missed 23 games in 2012 with a left external oblique strain.
"Obviously, we had some really big injuries that hurt us," Joyce said. "I think we're really determined this year to stay healthy. And, other than that, to take what we've learned, the success we've had and build upon it. I think we're in pretty good shape. We're going to be ready."
The Rays' approach has been to bring along players slowly, putting them into situations where they feel the player has the best chance to succeed. Joyce feels like he would have done fine had the Rays put him in the lineup every day, regardless of whether a right-hander was pitching.
"I don't think I would have had the success I wanted to have," Joyce said. "But I think, knowing me and how I am, when I fail I'm more driven to succeed because I can't stand to fail. And maybe they saw it as one of those things where they saw it as hurtful rather than beneficial."
Joyce experienced a struggle in the second half last season when he hit just .202 with six home runs and 25 RBIs in 198 at-bats after the All-Star Game.
"For me, I look at the end of last year and as much of a struggle as it was for me, it was probably the best thing for me," Joyce said. "Because I really took a step back and looked at everything. I just became really dedicated to becoming the all-around player that I want to be."
Rays manager Joe Maddon seems to respect Joyce's desire to become an everyday player.
"I know he's been clamoring for that," Maddon said. "But it doesn't really matter. What matters is how he performs and then how the other guys are performing. We'll try to make our best guess on a nightly basis."
Maddon did say that the idea of Joyce playing a lot more against left-handers "is possibly there."
"And I'm saying it's possible because regardless, if we're facing a lefty, we're still going to have to play lefties against lefties," Maddon said. "It's not like we'll be able to flip the whole lineup to left-handers. There's going to be different left-handed batters on specific nights that are going to face certain lefties.
"To this point, we have an idea of the kind of lefty he's better against. So you might see him against that guy. If he's able to run with it further than that, that's up to him, but we're not going to run away from the way we set things up by [using a platoon system]. [We're] trying to put the guys in the best possible situation to be successful, that's always going to be our first priority."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.