ST. PETERSBURG — Outfielder Matt Joyce said he's sure there were "a lot of questions" surrounding the offseason trade that brought him here from Detroit for right-hander Edwin Jackson.
With every strong start by Jackson, who boasts one of the league's best ERAs, the Tampa native said people were probably wondering "whether the trade was equal or how it's going to work out."
Said Joyce: "I'm just trying to keep up with him.''
In his past two starts, he has done more than that. Joyce homered for the second straight game, going 3-for-4 with four RBIs and lifting the Rays (26-28) to a 6-2 win over the Royals Tuesday in front of 13,604 at Tropicana Field who gave him a huge ovation in the ninth.
Joyce, 24, called up Saturday, doesn't know how long his stay in the big leagues will be. But with the Rays lineup taking yet another hit as third baseman Evan Longoria left with left hamstring tightness, his teammates know how big Joyce's bat could be.
"I think he's gonna be huge," Longoria said. "Obviously, they traded for him for a reason and he's kind of proven that now. He's doing what he can do and he's producing."
Said manager Joe Maddon: "This guy's got a special bat, it makes a different sound when he hits it, and you always like to have those kind of guys in your offense."
Right-hander Andy Sonnanstine had given up five or more runs in three of his previous four starts, including a career-high eight in his last outing. But he was sharp Tuesday, getting ahead of hitters and minimizing the big inning. He gave up a homer to Jose Guillen in the second and another to Miguel Olivo in the fifth; right-handers are hitting .433 against him. But he was more efficient, with no walks on 91 pitches while lasting 62/3 innings.
"I felt real good, felt like I was aggressive and pitching like my old self," he said. "I felt like I had more conviction with all my pitches tonight and really stayed focus."
The Rays got their offense from Joyce and Ben Zobrist, who hit a two-run homer in the fourth.
With Joyce, it wasn't just that he got hits, it was how. His two-run double and his homer came with two outs. He came up in the sixth against lefty Horacio Ramirez and looked toward Maddon to see if he was going to get replaced by a pinch-hitter because of his struggles with left-handers.
Joyce, "excited" by the vote of confidence, ripped a double to left-center. He said his work in winter ball hitting against lefties is paying off. In the eighth, Joyce hit a two-run homer, his third in 17 at-bats this season.
When he went to rightfield in the ninth, he received a huge ovation. "That was awesome," he said. "I pointed at them and basically said, 'Thanks.' They had a sign, 'Matt Joyce Fan Club.' I had fun with it."
Maddon has said Joyce may not necessarily be up for good. But he also said, "You don't walk away from good performance.
"I think he's ready to be an everyday major-league player. We'll have to play this through and see where it takes us."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com