Monday, December 18, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

Desmond Jennings, Matt Joyce take 'just play' approach

ST. PETERSBURG — The advice, when you think about it, was as basic as it gets.

With all the analytics, advanced metrics, cutting-edge equipment, performance consultants and next-level training tools the Rays have available to enhance their players' performance, manager Joe Maddon at the start of the season told both Desmond Jennings and Matt Joyce simply this:

Go play.

"I've used the same mantra with (Jennings) and Matty Joyce, to just go and play a good game of baseball," Maddon said. "They've both done great with that."

The idea was to get them to stop focusing on the specific aspect of their game in which players are most often judged — offensive production — and embrace the entire game: baserunning, bunting, outfield defense, throwing, etc.

And the payoff has been that they've improved in all aspects — including hitting.

"Everything has gotten better," Maddon said.

After a decent opening week, a cool second and a couple of days of limited duty for a tight groin, Jennings has been playing, arguably, at his highest overall level, making highlight catches and delivering big hits. As a reward, on Monday he was named AL player of the week.

"Watching him play right now is really a pleasure," Maddon said. "It's a treat watching him. This is kind of what we thought he could look like. And he's doing it right now."

Ask for examples, and Maddon has plenty:

• In centerfield, how Jennings is taking better routes to balls, showing better closing speed, making better throws.

• On the bases, how he is picking his spots to run better, successful on six of seven steal attempts.

• And at the plate, how he is being more selective, showing that rare combination of power, patience and speed that can make him elite, leading the team with an .890 on-base plus slugging percentage while also being more open to mixing in an occasional bunt. "He's working quality at-bats, man," Maddon said. "Better at-bats. He's into it. Accepting his walks and not expanding his strike zone."

Jennings doesn't see it that he's doing anything drastically different, just better. He is pleased with his play thus far, but with perspective that consistency is what matters most.

"It's a good feeling right now," he said. "I just want to keep it up."

Joyce had already felt like he had to do something different after a disappointing 2013 season. Maddon's guidance just furthered those thoughts, as he, too, has been better in all aspects.

"It's just about playing the game the right way instead of getting caught up in the numbers," Joyce said. "The numbers are going to rise and fall, you're going to have good games and bad games. For me, the biggest thing is sticking with that approach and being committed to it and knowing good things will happen if I stick to that approach."

The biggest change Joyce made was to open up his offensive philosophy, getting away from pulling the ball so much to right and going back to using left-centerfield more. Also, being more willing and creative in beating the defensive shifts by showing, and occasionally dropping down, a bunt. The initial results have been good, with eight opposite-field hits already this season, compared to 11 all of last year.

"It was a very conscious decision for me," Joyce said. "It's something I have to really work on and stay on top of and be committed to."

Joyce has had good starts before — he made the All-Star team in 2011 based on his April and May, then faded — and knows sustaining his increased level of play is the true test. After a sizzling first three weeks, in which he was batting .364 and among the American League leaders with a 1.080 OPS, he is just 2-for-his-last-25.

And to that end, he has made another less obvious but equally important offseason change: talking regularly with a sports psychologist to try to lessen the burden he puts on himself mentally in hopes of better handling the occasional rough stretches.

"I'm very hard on myself, so I've tried to take the mind-set that no one's perfect," Joyce said. "Sometimes you're not going to square the ball up and sometimes you're going to strike out and you can't beat yourself up to the point where you're miserable or don't enjoy what you're doing. Failure is part of the game, and I'm confident in my approach."

Maddon lauds Joyce for what he has been doing and says, as with Jennings, that the payoff has been evident in his overall play.

"He's playing the game right now, and he's doing it in a nice, calm, aware manner," Maddon said. "He's just playing the game."

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays.

Jennings named week's top player in AL

Rays centerfielder Desmond Jennings was named the American League player of the week for the week ending Sunday.

Jennings batted .355 (11-for-31) with three doubles, three homers, three RBIs, eight runs and three stolen bases to claim his first career weekly honor. The right-handed hitter led all major-leaguers in total bases (23) and extra-base hits (six) and was tied for first in home runs. In the AL, he was tops in runs, tied for first in hits, tied for third in stolen bases and was fourth with a .742 slugging percentage.

Among other accomplishments, Jennings on April 28 scored from second base on Matt Joyce's sacrifice fly, becoming the third Rays player to do so. He also homered in three straight games for the first time in his career.

Times wires

 
Comments
Rays’ trade silence likely a short-lived phenomenon

Rays’ trade silence likely a short-lived phenomenon

LAKE BUENA VISTA — There were a lot of reasons the Rays didn’t start the process of trading some of their bigger-name, higher-paid players at last week’s winter meetings.Most obvious was them not finding the just-right deal to move closer Alex Colome...
Published: 12/16/17
No big deal for Rays at winter meetings, but it’s still coming

No big deal for Rays at winter meetings, but it’s still coming

LAKE BUENA VISTA — Here’s the one thing we definitely know:Rays officials headed home from the winter meetings and back across I-4 Thursday without making deals to trade any of their bigger-name, higher-paid players. Not closer Alex Colome, not third...
Published: 12/14/17
Are Tampa Bay Rays going to make a major deal involving Alex Colome, others? Well …

Are Tampa Bay Rays going to make a major deal involving Alex Colome, others? Well …

UPDATE, 4:02: It doesn't sound like the Rays and Cardinals will be making a deal today, Derrick Goold writing for the St. Louis Post Dispatch that Cardinals execs "leave the Walt Disney Dolphin resort with good feel for what Tampa Bay would be willin...
Published: 12/14/17
Rays re-sign pitcher Jonny Venters, among 13 invited to spring training

Rays re-sign pitcher Jonny Venters, among 13 invited to spring training

LAKE BUENA VISTA — LHP Jonny Venters got as far as Triple A in September. Now the former All-Star is positioned to make it all the way back to the majors for the first time since 2012, re-signing with the Rays and headlining Thursday’s announcement o...
Published: 12/14/17
Veteran Jonny Venters, prospect Joe McCarthy among 13 Tampa Bay Rays spring invitees

Veteran Jonny Venters, prospect Joe McCarthy among 13 Tampa Bay Rays spring invitees

Inspiring veteran LHP Jonny Venters and intriguing prospect 1B/OF Joe McCarthy are among 13 players invited to major-league spring training camp with the Rays.Others coming as a result of signing minor-league contracts with invites are: RHP R.J. Alan...
Published: 12/14/17
Tampa Bay Rays lose RHP Burch Smith in Rule 5 draft, keep Nick Ciuffo

Tampa Bay Rays lose RHP Burch Smith in Rule 5 draft, keep Nick Ciuffo

The Rays lost RHP Burch Smith in Thursday's Rule 5 draft but were happy to see him get an opportunity in Kansas City.They also were pleased to hang on to C Nick Ciuffo, who was left exposed but not selected.Smith, 27, was acquired from the Padres as ...
Published: 12/14/17
Live from Disney: Winter meetings update, day 4

Live from Disney: Winter meetings update, day 4

UPDATE, 11:09: RHP Steve Cishek, who was a very effective addition to the Rays pen last season, has reunited with pitching coach Jim Hickey, agreeing to a deal with the Cubs.UPDATE, 10:40: Like most teams, Rays officials are heading out of the meetin...
Published: 12/14/17
Disney-Fox deal gives ESPN control of local cable rights to Rays, Lightning games

Disney-Fox deal gives ESPN control of local cable rights to Rays, Lightning games

As part of its deal to buy a massive package of 21st Century Fox assets, Disney will acquire Fox Sports Regional Networks, which control the local cable rights to a slew of professional teams, including the Tampa Bay Rays and Tampa Bay Lightning.Assu...
Published: 12/14/17
Tampa Bay Rays making progress in trade talks

Tampa Bay Rays making progress in trade talks

Without getting into specifics – especially the who and the where – Rays officials are for the first time talking optimistically about making a trade before the winter meetings end Thursday.Speaking at around 5:15, senior VP Chaim Bloom s...
Published: 12/13/17

Winter meetings journal: Rays trade for money to sign top international free agent

LAKE BUENA VISTA — While most of the business conducted at the meetings impacts the big-league team one way or another, the Rays are working to finalize a move they hope pays off big sometime in the 2020s.In trading Wednesday to acquire $1 million in...
Published: 12/13/17