ST. PETERSBURG — Manager Joe Maddon said one reason he put outfielder Matt Joyce in the cleanup spot Saturday was to pump him up after a rough opening day, when he went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts.
Joyce did gain some confidence but admitted he was surprised. "I wonder if he's a little crazy," he said, smiling.
But the move couldn't have worked out any better as Joyce picked up two hits, including a homer, and three RBIs in the Rays' 8-6 win over the Yankees.
"Joe has a way of kind of picking the right game at the right time," Joyce said. "I was excited to take the challenge and step into that place and try to come up for the team."
Joyce's frustrating Friday came against All-Star left-hander CC Sabathia. Maddon said Joyce, an All-Star last year, is one of the league's best at hitting right-handers (.290 last season). And Maddon figured slotting him in the heart of the order against right-hander Hiroki Kuroda would balance out the lineup.
"Matt had a nice day," Maddon said.
Joyce began with a good plate appearance as he worked a two-out walk in the first, then scored on Luke Scott's single. In the third, Joyce ripped Kuroda's first pitch — a curveball — into the rightfield seats for a solo homer.
"I was really trying to slow myself down 'cause I was trying to do too much," Joyce said. "I focused on really seeing the ball instead of trying to crush it."
The former Armwood High standout helped the Rays add some insurance in the seventh, after Evan Longoria's two-run homer was overturned via replay and called a double, sending Carlos Peña to third. Joyce, facing left-hander Clay Rapada, worked a 2-and-0 count before lifting a bloop single to left, scoring both to make it 8-2.
"I did what I wanted to do, I had a plan of saying I'm not going to get beat, and I'm going to put a ball in play, no matter what," Joyce said. "And that's exactly what happened."
As for where Joyce will hit today, he said it's anyone's guess.
"Who knows, leadoff?" he said. "You never know."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.