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Joyce back in bigs, makes start Sunday

Joyce back in bigs, makes start Sunday

ST. PETERSBURG -- Joe Maddon received a text message early Sunday morning from the Rays' Triple-A manager Charlie Montoyo.

Though the transaction had already been made, and the young outfield prospect Matt Joyce had already arrived in Florida, the message confirmed what Madden had been thinking: Joyce, the 24-year-old acquired from Detroit in the offseason, was ready to jump back up to the Major Leagues.

"He's been doing really well," Maddon said. "Offensively speaking, his at-bats have been very good. He's been showing us power. I've heard his baserunning has gotten a lot better. We're very pleased with his progress."

Joyce's reunion to his hometown, where he said he'd seen countless Rays game as a kid growing up, hit a serendipitous note when he crushed a solo home run to right field in the fifth inning. He's hit home runs in the big leagues before -- this wasn't even his first homer as a member of the Rays. But there was a special feeling running through his gut as he rounded the bases on Sunday.

"Being at home ... it's just a good feeling," Joyce said. "Running around the bases, you're just on cloud nine. You don't even feel your feet hit the ground. It's a really cool feeling."

Joyce added a single in the sixth to finish the afternoon 2-for-3 in the Rays' 3-2 loss to Minnesota. As for the home run ball, it may soon be on some mantle, but not his.

"I signed it and gave it to the fan that caught it," Joyce said.

Joyce got the call to the big leagues while he was taking out the garbage at his apartment in Durham, N.C., on Saturday afternoon, and had only a few hours to gather his things for a 4:30 p.m. ET flight to Florida.

Not that he's complaining. Joyce has been eagerly anticipating his opportunity to return to the Majors, after playing in 92 games last season for the Tigers.

"You always get a little nerves when you come up," Joyce said. "That's part of the process, coming up to the big leagues. I'm not as nervous as I was the first time I got called up, but I'm definitely excited to be here."

Joyce was acquired by Tampa Bay in December in a deal for right-handed pitcher Edwin Jackson after he hit .252 with 12 home runs and 33 RBIs with Detroit in 2008. The Tigers' 12th-round pick in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, he ascended quickly through the Minor Leagues and was named the 13th-best prospect in the International League last year by Baseball America.

After Spring Training, Joyce was sent down to Triple-A Durham, where Maddon said he got the opportunity to "polish up" his tools. He was batting a team-leading .315 with five home runs, 27 RBIs and six stolen bases with the Bulls.

"The main thing was just trying to work on whatever I had to do to get back here," Joyce said. "Stealing bases, learning how to steal, when to steal, working on the jumps, working on positioning, your stance -- just little things like that. As far as hitting, just letting the ball travel a little more to try to see the offspeed stuff, and it helped. I stayed the other way and hit the fastball the other way. It's not perfected and it's an ongoing process, but it helped out a lot."

Joyce made his first start in center field on Sunday for the Rays while batting sixth, with B.J. Upton given a day off. Maddon said the positioning in the outfield will require a quick adjustment from the rookie Joyce, especially under the dome at Tropicana Field, where judging fly balls isn't always routine.

"I'm not totally comfortable with that," Maddon said. "Anytime an outfielder comes into this building, it's not the best. But he's been out in the outfield before, so we'll see how he does."

To make room for Joyce, reliever Dale Thayer was optioned back down to Durham on Saturday. Thayer had a 5.06 ERA with one save in three appearances with the Rays.

Maddon said not to make too much of Upton's day off on Sunday -- he will be back leading off for the Rays on Tuesday. Upton's batting .200 with nine RBIs this season. Bringing Joyce up was simply to add another bat to the bench.

"We talked about getting him involved in all the outfield positions [with Durham]," Maddon said. "Just getting him at-bats. We tried to get him to become a more aggressive baserunner, and apparently that's happening also."

Zach Schonbrun is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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