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Joyce enjoying breakout season with Rays

Joyce enjoying breakout season with Rays

Joyce enjoying breakout season with Rays
ST. PETERSBURG -- Matt Joyce couldn't help but have mixed emotions when he was traded from Detroit to the Rays in December 2008.

On one hand, he was being dealt away from the only organization he had known. On the other, Joyce was about to receive an opportunity to play in his hometown of Tampa.

It was an opportunity of a lifetime for a guy who grew up in the area and attended Florida Southern College in nearby Lakeland.

"Any time you get traded, you kind of have that feeling of, 'What did I do wrong or why are they trading me? Why don't they want me?'" Joyce said. "But on the other side of that, I was coming home to Tampa, so I was excited."

Joyce was in Mexico when he found out about the trade. He received a text message from his agent that was shortly followed by a message from his father.

At first, Joyce thought the news was just about his winter ball season in Mexico coming to an end. He was looking forward to a break from baseball and welcomed the message with open arms, but when he finally talked to his dad on the phone, he realized it was much more than that.

Joyce had been acquired by the Rays for right-hander Edwin Jackson and was about to enter the mix for Tampa Bay's starting job in right field.

"I was excited, thinking I am coming home from Mexico to go to Tampa," Joyce said. "I'm like, 'Finally I get to come home.' But I ended up calling him and [he was] saying, 'You got traded to Tampa.'

"I was just as excited. You get to play in front of your home family and your friends, and it's worked out perfectly for me."

Joyce spent part of 2009 and '10 with Tampa Bay, but it was the '11 campaign that will go down as his breakout year. The 27-year-old hit .277 with 19 homers and 75 RBIs and picked up his first All-Star nod along the way.

Joyce proved especially valuable against right-handed pitching by posting a split of .290 (20-for-92) with 16 home runs, 60 RBIs and 27 doubles with a .360 on-base percentage.

Joyce's success can be traced back to his patience at the plate. He saw an average of 4.05 pitches per at-bat, which were most on the team, and ranked 13th most in the American League in his first full season in the Major Leagues.

"Just trying to be more consistent," Joyce said of his success. "I think each year that you grow, you come up to the big leagues and you get more at-bats, you get a little bit better at being more consistent.

"I feel like this year I've had a better chance of going out there more often and playing a lot more and that's been able to help me be a little more consistent."

Joyce has proven to be a spark in Tampa Bay's AL Division Series against the Rangers. He entered play Tuesday batting just .182 (2-for-11) but hit a two-run homer out of the No. 9 hole in Game 2 to give his club an early lead.

That type of production is nothing new for Joyce, who has hit in every spot of the order for the Rays this season. Game 3 he was batting cleanup but found himself at the bottom of the order again for Game 4.

The constant lineup shuffling might have caused him problems earlier in his career, but the former 12th-round pick has adjusted to Joe Maddon's unique managerial style.

"I think normally that would be a tough thing to really adjust to," Joyce said. "But since we've been doing it all year long, you kind of get used to it.

"Joe's pretty much thrown 100 something different lineups out there, and I think we've really come to expect the change and I think we've grown accustomed and comfortable with that change."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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