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Tampa Bay Rays' Matt Joyce continues to lead AL in batting average

CLEVELAND — OF Matt Joyce paused for a moment to ponder his accomplishments, then decided that as much fun as it was to be one of the few Rays to beat LHP David Price in the FIFA 11 soccer video game, leading the American League in hitting was indeed better.

"I'd rather take that one,'' he said. "Absolutely.''

Joyce's ascension to the top of the leaderboard isn't likely to last — though he held onto the top spot by going 2-for-5 Wednesday, improving to .358 — but is a clear measure of his progress.

Less clear is the reason for his success, which has increased the discussion about whether he should play every day.

Manager Joe Maddon said he thinks a reason Joyce, a lefty swinger, has done so well is because his playing time is limited to primarily against right-handed pitchers. The stats back him up: Joyce is hitting .396 (36-for-91) vs. righties and .133 (2-for-15) against lefties.

"There's two factors to be considered there," Maddon said. "No. 1, he's probably a lot fresher, and No. 2, the confidence derived from not having to scuffle against a left-hander and just play against right-handers. And I don't know if it would have any kind of impact on his swing if he saw more lefties."

Joyce said he thinks his success comes from playing more regularly — the Rays have faced 26 righty starters, 10 lefties — and growing into the opportunity.

"As you go along you know your swing better, you know yourself better, you get a little more comfortable," said the former Armwood High standout. "And when you get in there and you get more chances to play you get into a set routine."

Maddon said there are some lefties he will let Joyce face now, and he expects him to eventually become an everyday player. Joyce, 26, said he welcomes that chance: "I know I can do it."

UPTON DOWN: CF B.J. Upton dropped his appeal and starts the two-game suspension stemming from his May 4 ejection today.

"Obviously it's not something that you really want to happen or have to go through, but I have to take responsibility for my actions,'' he said. "It happened, it's over with.''

Maddon said it was "really somewhat of a shame" for Upton to sit out now because he has been so hot, on a 10-for-23 tear.

Sam Fuld will start in center today, with Joyce in left.

SONNY SUNDAY: Despite RHP Andy Sonnanstine's rough Tuesday outing (31/3 IP, 2 R, 4 H, 5 BB), the Rays are planning to give him another start Sunday against the Orioles. Maddon said he didn't want to be "harsh" in his evaluation since it was his first start.

SEEING DOUBLE: C John Jaso joked that if he'd seen the ball that fell out of umpire Dale Scott's bag and was closer to the plate during a key sixth-inning sequence Tuesday, he would have picked that one up to tag out Jack Hannahan. The situation occurred when Juan Cruz's pitch got by Jaso, bounced up and struck Scott's thumb, and as he reacted he knocked a ball from his bag. Scott called it "a goofy play," one he'd never had or seen happen in 31 years on the job, but said the ruling would have been simple: "Obviously if he picks up the wrong ball or they play the wrong ball we're just going to call time and award or place the runners like it had not happened.''

J.P. DUTY: LHP J.P. Howell did well in his one-inning, 11-pitch appearance for Triple-A Durham on Wednesday and will pitch tonight in the last significant test in his rehab from May 2010 shoulder surgery. If all goes well, he will make a final appearance for Durham on Monday and rejoin the Rays Wednesday or Thursday in Toronto.

MISCELLANY: SS Reid Brignac extended his extra-base-hitless streak to 104 at-bats, breaking the team record. … RHP James Shields said he'll get up around 7:30 to start preparing for today's 12:05 game.

Tampa Bay Rays' Matt Joyce continues to lead AL in batting average 05/11/11 [Last modified: Thursday, May 12, 2011 1:00am]
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