Outfielder Matt Joyce wants to be an everyday player.
"There's no doubt," Joyce said. "I'm ready, whenever they want me in there."
You can make the case that Joyce is as ready as he has ever been as he's arguably the Rays' most improved player over the past couple of years.
Joyce came to Tampa Bay in 2008 from Detroit as a hitter; that's what the Tigers focused on with the smooth, left-handed-swinging slugger. He can still do that, entering Saturday leading the Rays with 10 homers and second with 30 RBIs while batting .292. But Joyce has also bought into the "Rays Way," getting better at his defense and baserunning and becoming more of a complete player.
"He's not just a hitter anymore," manager Joe Maddon said. "He's not just a pretty face. He's done the other stuff that matters."
Joyce, 27, an All-Star last season, has even seasoned his approach against left-handed pitchers. It has been a slow and admittedly frustrating situation for Joyce, who has always believed he could hit lefties but needed the opportunities. Maddon has said they've tried to help Joyce by putting him against lefties he matches up better against (he sat against Andy Pettitte on Tuesday but played Thursday against CC Sabathia, getting a single).
Joyce has also had to earn those chances, and from his four at-bats against lefties in 2009 he has bumped up to 25 in 2010 (.080), 92 (.217) in 2011 and 52 (.269) already this season. He seized the moment with extra starts when fellow outfielders B.J. Upton and Desmond Jennings missed time with injuries this season.
One reason Joyce hasn't played every day is because of how the Rays are built, with Maddon liking to move his versatile players around (switch-hitting Ben Zobrist between right and second, Sean Rodriguez all over the infield) to get the most out of his lineup.
But Joyce's improved performance against lefties can eventually put an end to a platoon.
"As of late, I feel like I've had more confidence and comfortability factor because I've been able to be in there and face (lefties)," Joyce said.
Bench coach Dave Martinez praised Joyce for his work ethic and attitude, which has helped the Tampa native evolve. He told Joyce that you can't always bank on hitting and that you can help the team win with a throw, a catch or crafty baserunning.
"And he's done that," Martinez said. "He's been one of the good success stories. If you look around, we've got a bunch of guys that have matured and grown over the years since I've been here. And he's one of the guys that really has matured and grown to be a good everyday ballplayer."