ST. PETERSBURG — Matt Joyce said Evan Longoria leaves some "very big shoes to fill," with different Rays having to rise to the occasion while the star third baseman is out six to eight weeks with a partially torn hamstring.
On Tuesday, it was Joyce's turn, filling Longoria's third spot in the order quite nicely in ripping a homer and an RBI triple to lift the Rays to a 3-1 victory over the Mariners in front of 9,972 at Tropicana Field. For Tampa Bay (16-8), it was its ninth win in its past 10 games.
And manager Joe Maddon said Joyce could see more time in the No. 3 hole against right-handers, against whom he entered Tuesday hitting .327.
"I feel very comfortable in the middle of the order, wherever it may be," said Joyce, who has a team-leading six homers. "I'm up for anything."
Joyce provided nearly all of the Rays offense, which mustered just three hits, none after the third inning; it was just the 10th time in club history that the Rays have won when recording three hits or fewer. But it was enough to help rookie lefty Matt Moore get his first victory of the season, albeit in an abbreviated five-inning outing.
Moore (1-1) looked sharp at times, striking out seven and walking just one, saying he felt some growth with his curveball. But he said he wasn't attacking — and finishing — hitters enough early in counts, with a lot of foul balls leading to a 101-pitch count.
Tuesday "was a shorter day for me, five innings is not the way any of us want to go," Moore said. "I think it's just a matter of me trusting the ball over the plate a little more. I don't know if it looks like I'm nibbling, but it feels like the ball is going over the plate and then it's just off the plate. But I feel like we're on the way up right now."
Moore credited the bullpen for picking him up, with Burke Badenhop throwing two scoreless innings, Joel Peralta taking the eighth and Fernando Rodney striking out the side in the ninth for his eighth save in as many opportunities.
"They were outstanding," Moore said.
Ben Zobrist might not be hitting the ball extremely well now (.198 average), but he has been able to find his way on base in the second spot of the order. And Zobrist started the Rays' first-inning rally with his AL-leading 20th walk of the season. Joyce followed with a triple off the centerfield wall.
"He understands to set the table is very important," Maddon said. "That's where the value is of a Ben Zobrist."
Joyce actually felt the triple was hit harder than his home run, which sailed 362 feet into the rightfield seats.
"It's weird how that works, isn't it?" Joyce said. "I told (hitting coach) Derek (Shelton) that I need to work out a little bit more or something. But it worked out well the next at-bat."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]