Tampa Bay Rays call up Matt Joyce, plan to get him playing time

ON A TEAR: Carl Crawford puts the Rays on the board with an infield single off Twins starter Francisco Liriano in the third, driving in Michel Hernandez. Crawford, who also homered, is batting .368 in his past 38 games.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

ON A TEAR: Carl Crawford puts the Rays on the board with an infield single off Twins starter Francisco Liriano in the third, driving in Michel Hernandez. Crawford, who also homered, is batting .368 in his past 38 games.

ST. PETERSBURG — OF Matt Joyce, recalled from Triple-A Durham on Saturday, will start today and make his Rays Tropicana Field debut.

And manager Joe Maddon said the Tampa native should get plenty more opportunities to play.

To make room for Joyce, RHP Dale Thayer was optioned to Durham.

"We'll get (Joyce) out there as often as possible," Maddon said. "When you bring a young guy like that up, that you feel has such a high potential ceiling, you want to have him get out there and not just sit on the bench, so we'll figure out how to get him out there as often as possible."

Joyce, acquired in the offseason from the Tigers for RHP Edwin Jackson, made the Rays' opening day roster, going 1-for-10 with a homer in three games before getting sent down to Durham to make room when B.J. Upton returned.

Joyce showed the pop in his left-handed bat for the Bulls, hitting .315 with five homers and 27 RBIs in 41 games.

With DH Pat Burrell (neck stiffness) still on the disabled list, Joyce could fill in as DH or in the outfield.

In a groove: LF Carl Crawford's stolen-base streak may have ended Saturday, but he continued his tear at the plate, and did so in a big way.

Crawford homered for the second straight game, and like his solo shot Friday, he hit the ball more than 400 feet to center. Crawford also knocked in the Rays' first run on an infield single, capping an impressive 10-pitch at-bat against LHP Francisco Liriano.

Crawford, who went 3-for-4, is hitting .368 in 38 games since April 22, raising his average from .224 to .329.

"His at-bats have been special," Maddon said. "He's been such a tough out and the acceptance of the infield hit and the home run to centerfield, a rare combination of speed and power. He's just playing probably the best baseball I've ever seen him play."

Crawford had a stolen-base streak of 32 entering Saturday and was 30-for-30 for the season, but he was caught stealing in the third on a 1-3-6 pickoff by Liriano. It was his first caught stealing since July 18, 2008, vs. Toronto.

Long time coming: Maddon pondered before Saturday's game whether LHP Randy Choate's save Friday night — when he struck out hot-hitting Twins C Joe Mauer — would be a huge confidence-builder.

Looks as if it was. Choate, who had zero saves in his first 198 career big-league appearances, now has saves on back-to-back days as he got the final two outs Saturday, striking out OF Denard Span to end the Rays' 5-2 win.

"The confidence of Joe to put me back in that same situation, it always makes you feel excited and go out there and want to keep proving him right," said Choate, 33. "I just want to throw as many strikes as I can and get my left-handers out."

Choate was so excited after Friday's game he pumped his fist and quickly asked C Dioner Navarro for the ball. He said he saw Mauer out front of the Vinoy later that night and let him know he wasn't trying to show him up; he was just pumped.

"The last couple years have been pretty tough; it's been very much up and down," Choate said. "So to be able to get in there and have a little bit of success is nice."

Pain in neck: Maddon said Burrell (neck strain) received another round of shots Friday in an effort to help get rid of the stiffness. Burrell, who was initially expected to be activated last week, will be re-evaluated Tuesday, Maddon said.

On point: Maddon was impressed with RHP Grant Balfour, who gave up just one run in 22/3 strong innings. "He did a wonderful job; he was really sharp tonight," Maddon said. "He really looked like he was on the top of his game."

Miscellany: RHP Chris Mason was promoted to Triple-A Durham. … 3 Doors Down played a postgame concert Saturday, the first in the Summer Concert Series. … RHP Dan Wheeler and RF Gabe Kapler will sign autographs for kids 14 and younger along the first-base line from 12-12:30 p.m. today.

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Rays call up Matt Joyce, plan to get him playing time 05/30/09 [Last modified: Sunday, May 31, 2009 8:05am]

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