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Rays' Joyce happy to end homerless skid

Matt Joyce watches his home run in the sixth inning, which snaps a 43-game homerless drought for the Rays outfielder.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Matt Joyce watches his home run in the sixth inning, which snaps a 43-game homerless drought for the Rays outfielder.

ST. PETERSBURG — RF Matt Joyce entered Friday in the longest home run drought of his career, spanning 43 games.

"I feel like it's been years," he said. "I almost forgot what that felt like."

That's why it felt so good for Joyce to snap the streak with a solo homer in the sixth inning, capping an 11-pitch at-bat against Blue Jays RHP R.A. Dickey.

It was Joyce's 15th homer of the season and first in 123 at bats.

"Honestly, I feel like I'm fighting for my life up there, struggling so much," Joyce said. "So it's so frustrating for me, just trying to do all the small little things right and stay positive."

Manager Joe Maddon said the hit has "got to make (Joyce) feel better and could be a sign of things to come.

"Sometimes it's clumpy with power hitters," Maddon said. "Let's see if they start coming in bunches."

On the mend: CF Desmond Jennings, on the disabled list with a fractured left middle finger, took another step in his rehabilitation, taking 20 swings of batting practice with hitting coach Derek Shelton pitching to him. Jennings is scheduled to hit again today.

Maddon said the team could put Jennings in a minor-league game Sunday before deciding on activating him. Jennings is eligible to come off the DL on Monday, and Maddon said that's possible.

"He's making nice progress," Maddon said. "(Head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield) believes that if he's not right on schedule, it's not going to be far off that."

FULL CIRCLE: Jays LHP J.A. Happ returns to the Tropicana Field mound tonight for the first time since May 7, when he was struck in the head by a line drive off Jennings' bat. Happ suffered a skull fracture and a sprained knee, and he spent three months on the DL before rejoining the rotation a few weeks ago. Maddon believes Happ, making his third start since returning, will likely have the same cathartic experience Rays RHP Alex Cobb did in his Thursday start at the Trop, the scene of his June 15 concussion from a hit ball.

"It's good for (Happ)," Maddon said. "You've got to exorcise those demons, have got to get back out there, got to start riding the horse again. It was horrible. I wish him well. It's something that he has to do for himself."

LINING UP: OF Wil Myers was the DH for the second straight game. Maddon said it was largely because Luke Scott was having back spasms, plus he also wanted to get OF Kelly Johnson in the field. Johnson started in left.

"He's day-to-day," Maddon said of Scott. Maddon said Scott's spasms began Thursday.

ON TRACK: RHP Jesse Crain (right shoulder strain) continues to build up arm strength, playing catch from 105 feet. Crain said everything has gone well and he was not feeling pain. Still, the team is taking his rehabilitation slowly so when Crain comes back, potentially in September, he will stay healthy. Crain said he hoped to start throwing from a mound by the end of next week. "Each day I play catch, I feel a little stronger," he said.

American League BEAST: Maddon said though there have been surprises in the American League East this season, including the Blue Jays not living up to their preseason hype, he believes the balanced five-team group has reaffirmed its division as the toughest in baseball. Maddon believes the race for the division title will go down to the wire. "I want us to win the division, period," Maddon said, "and avoid that madness (of the wild card)."

MISCELLANY: RHP Kyle Farns­worth, designated for assignment last week, signed a minor-league deal with the Pirates on Friday and was assigned to Triple-A Indianapolis.

Rays' Joyce happy to end homerless skid 08/16/13 [Last modified: Saturday, August 17, 2013 12:39am]
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