Joyce hitting it off for Rays in leadoff spot

Joyce hitting it off for Rays in leadoff spot

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."

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.