Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Tampa Bay Rays rightfielder Matt Joyce focuses on consistency

PORT CHARLOTTE — Matt Joyce tested his musical mettle this offseason, learning to play songs on a keyboard as well as his Yamaha acoustic guitar.

Joyce's newfound hobby served as a release — likening it to Evan Longoria and his drums — but the Tampa native was able to master Beethoven's Fur Elise on the piano and string Oasis' Wonderwall.

"I'm not going for American Idol any time soon," the rightfielder said, smiling.

Joyce, 27, would rather focus on following up an All-Star season, his first full year in the majors, and making it less of a roller coaster. There was the spectacular start, leading the majors in hitting as late as June 2 and getting as high as .377 to get selected by the players to the midsummer classic.

But as the league adjusted to Joyce and a shoulder injury bothered him, his average dipped to .277.

"The biggest thing is being consistent," Joyce said; "finding that consistency to go out there every week, every month, every day and have consistent at-bats and play consistent baseball. And when you do that, you're able to help your team a lot."

Joyce has come a long way since joining the Rays before the 2009 season. Always known for his hitting and power from the left side, Joyce — nicknamed "Sweet Swingin' " — had to learn the "Rays Way" of doing things, becoming a more seasoned and smart baserunner and stout defender.

Whereas manager Joe Maddon was brutally honest with constructive criticism in previous spring meetings with Joyce, Monday's session had a lot more positives.

"He's as dangerous a hitter as we thought he is," Maddon said. "I think that's going to continue to get better as he understands what they're trying to do to him better. As a complete player, I thought you could see a little bit of an improvement almost everywhere last year. That's the thing in our meetings we set out for him. We wanted to make him a better baseball player, not just a hitter."

Joyce said his second-half struggles last year were partly due to a nagging left shoulder injury that affected his swing.

"I couldn't really stay through the ball," he said.

Teams also pitched to him differently as Joyce moved around in the order.

"You slide up and down the lineup so much, I couldn't tell you who was behind me or whatnot," Joyce said. "But protection definitely plays a part in it because you're not going to see the same pitches."

Maddon said the fact the Rays gave him more opportunities against left-handers, which he hit .217 against compared to his .290 clip against righties — played a role in the average drop. Joyce appeared in 141 games, starting 121, with Maddon saying he believes the former Armwood High star can be an everyday player once he "develops a firmer plan" against left-handed pitchers.

"(Joyce) is incredibly talented," Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. "He's got a really good ability to discern balls and strikes. When he stays in that mode, his production numbers are through the roof.

"And sometimes, when he scuffles a bit, he starts to expand more. So it's just, for him, remaining process orientated because he's got the skill set to perform extremely well over the course of an entire season as opposed to some up and down months."

And while only two of Joyce's career-high 19 homers came in the final 31 games, he hit a huge one, a three-run shot in the seventh inning Sept. 27 against the Yankees, giving the Rays the lead as they capped their historic comeback to the American League wild card.

"Last year was great. To make the All-Star team, to make the playoffs like we did, it was an absolute dream," Joyce said. "To do it on this team, where we have such great guys, makes it that much more enjoyable.

"You learn a lot, and hopefully, you're able to repeat your success and get more consistent with it."

Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]

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