ST. PETERSBURG -- With the Rays enduring injury upon injury early on this season, Matt Joyce knew he would get more opportunities in the starting lineup, especially against left-handed pitching. So far, the 2011 American League All-Star has done everything he can to take advantage of those chances.
"I hope so," Joyce said. "If not, I don't know what else I have to do."
Joyce carried a .295/.409/.545 batting line with nine homers into Sunday's series finale against the Orioles. His .409 on-base percentage ranks third in the American League behind Paul Konerko (.447) and Josh Hamilton (.417), and he has posted a .277/.382/.426 line against lefties to complement his .303 average and 1.016 OPS against right-handers.
Rays manager Joe Maddon said Joyce's success against southpaws has been a product of his patience at the plate: He's swinging at strikes, taking balls and using the same approach against lefties and righties. Maddon said Joyce used to be ahead of left-handed offspeed pitches, while letting fastballs go by him.
It's also helped that Joyce has seen more left-handed pitching this season. Through 56 games, Joyce already has more than half as many plate appearances against lefties (56) as he did all of last season (101), when he posted a .217/.287/.370 batting line against southpaws.
"That was one of those situations where I realized I would get a chance a little bit more against lefties. I was just looking forward to it. I really was," Joyce said. "I'm excited to get the opportunity. I'm trying to have good at-bats every time up. That's all you can do. Try to hit the ball hard, get a good pitch to hit, keep it simple. I'm getting a little more comfortable, a little more confident."
Maddon said Joyce should see even more starts against lefties going forward, given how well he's hit against them so far. In addition to his hitting, Maddon has praised Joyce's improved baserunning and his underrated outfield defense, two areas that Joyce hadn't spent much time working on before Tampa Bay acquired him from Detroit in December 2008.
"We've talked about him becoming more of a complete player over the last couple years," Maddon said. "He has worked on his entire game. He's not just a hitter anymore."