Joyce hitting it off for Rays in leadoff spot
Outfielder showing improved plate discipline since Maddon's move
ST. PETERSBURG -- Back on April 26, Rays manager Joe Maddon moved Matt Joyce to the leadoff spot in an attempt to get him going at the plate. At that point, Joyce was batting .185 with a .315 slugging percentage.
Looking back, Maddon's tactic appears to have worked. And it's still working now.
Joyce hit his third career leadoff homer on Friday night. In 13 games batting atop the order, Joyce has posted a .315/.383/.593 batting line and six RBIs. His production since April 26 hasn't wavered at any other spot, either, as Joyce owns a .301 average, .393 on-base percentage and .601 slugging percentage with 11 homers and 28 RBIs in 41 games (28 starts).
"He's really taken to it," Maddon said. "And I like it, because it's not only what he's doing there to feed three-four, but it's also him cleaning up seven-eight-nine, which has been pretty good for us to this point. So it seems like a good spot for him, and he's handled it mentally really, really well, I think."
Maddon said the biggest improvement for Joyce has been his plate discipline, noting that he's no longer chasing low pitches or breaking balls out of the strike zone, but also that he's simply not been missing his pitch.
Desmond Jennings, more of a typical leadoff man with his blend of speed and power, will still probably hit atop the order against left-handed starters. And Maddon admitted that Joyce may be benefiting from who's in the lineup behind him, namely Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria, as pitchers might be less willing to pitch around him and put him on base with the heart of the order coming up.
But whatever the reason, Joyce is thriving in his newfound spot atop the order.
"Part of it is protectionism, and the other part is just a mental different outlook. And it causes you maybe to settle down and not try to do too much, and you perceive your role a little bit differently, which he does," Maddon said. "But I don't want him to get too far away from just wanting to drive the baseball first and really organizing his strike zone. I think that's what he's done since he's been there."
Scott starts in left as Rays shuffle lineup
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays switched up their lineup on Saturday afternoon against the Royals, giving Luke Scott his first start of the season in left field and bumping him up to the third spot in the order.
Scott got the start in left field largely because Evan Longoria's plantar fasciitis still has him relegated to designated hitter duty, which shifted Kelly Johnson from left field to third base for the third straight day.
Manager Joe Maddon wanted Scott's bat in the lineup against Royals right-hander Jeremy Guthrie on Saturday. Since Tampa Bay started more of a groundball pitcher in Alex Cobb and Scott has looked fine in the outfield in brief late-inning appearances there this season, Maddon figured it was worth trying out the new look.
Scott had gone 3-for-3 as a pinch-hitter this series after recording three hits in his previous 23 at-bats. Johnson, meanwhile, has only three hits in his last 33 at-bats over his last eight games and moved down to the seventh spot for Saturday's game.
"It's all about people getting on base in the first three spots," Maddon said. "Luke's been doing a little bit better job more recently, Kelly's struggled a little bit, so let's take a little heat off Kelly and put a little bit more heat on Luke and see if he responds."
Things should get back to normal starting on Tuesday in Boston, when Maddon expects Longoria to be healthy enough to play third base. Whether Longoria can start at third in both halves of Tuesday's doubleheader, however, remains to be seen.
"We'll see how he feels. I've never had this malady and I hear different things," Maddon said. "One thing I've heard, once he gets back on the grass, that it might feel kind of normal again. Could DH one of the games. I'm not sure yet."
• Reliever Brandon Gomes (right lat strain) is scheduled to throw a bullpen session at Tropicana Field on Sunday. Gomes would need to pitch in the bullpen a few more times before beginning a Minor League rehab assignment, which Maddon said would last a week to 10 days, at the longest. Gomes told Maddon on Friday that he felt 100 percent physically.
"He's good. This guy probably had the best Spring Training out of all relief pitchers. We've kind of missed him a little bit, I think," Maddon said. "He adds a lot not only on the mound, but what he does in the clubhouse, too. So it's going to be good to get him back."
• Over the last six games entering Saturday, the Rays' starters have allowed 33 runs (32 earned) in 31 innings, the most runs they've allowed over a six-game stretch since July 21-27, 2007.
• The Rays lost four straight games to the Royals -- following Friday's 7-2 defeat -- for the first time since April 26, 2001-Aug. 9, 2002, when they lost five straight. The last time Tampa Bay dropped at least four straight to an opponent while allowing seven runs or more in each setback was May 2-June 3, 2008, against Boston.
• The Rays sent four players from the Charlotte Stone Crabs to the Class A Florida State League All-Star Game on Saturday night in Dunedin, Fla.: Right-hander Jesse Hahn, left-hander Ryan Carpenter, shortstop Jake Hager and catcher Curt Casali. The Rays will be represented by a club-record nine players from the Bowling Green Hot Rods in Tuesday's Midwest League All-Star Game.