ST. PETERSBURG -- Matt Joyce's path isn't a clear one.
No doubt Joyce will still see time in the outfield, as will a host of utility players, but designated hitter appears to be his ultimate destination.
"Everybody knows where I sit, where I stand, how I feel about everything, but none of that matters," said Joyce when asked about his situation. "At the end of the day, the team wants to win, and they're going to do what's best for the team. And for me, I'm part of the team. I'm going to do whatever it takes to make the team win and be successful."
Since Joyce is 29, athletic and a decent outfielder, being relegated to DH duties would seem somewhat unsettling. Instead, he appears to be keeping things in perspective.
Joyce smiled when asked if he was excited about the prospect of getting the bulk of the DH duty.
"Let me see how I can handle this," he laughed. "I'm going to take the run-around here."
"No, I'm looking forward to any opportunity I get to help the team," Joyce said. "At the end of the day, I'd rather DH than be on the bench. That's what it comes down to."
Joyce hit .235 last season, with 18 home runs and 47 RBIs. Fourteen of his home runs came in the first three months of the season before he finished with none in July, three in August and one in September. Joyce had just 170 at-bats in the final three months.
Matching up against right-handers has been one of Joyce's strong suits. Last season, 16 of his home runs came against right-handers, as have 71 of his 79 career homers -- a fact of which Tampa Bay is well aware.
"In 2013, Matt would be the first to tell you that he didn't have as consistent of a season as he's capable of having," said Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. "Looking back over the past few years, Matt has been one of the more productive hitters against right-handed pitching in both leagues. We are very optimistic that he will return to that level in 2014 while lining up in the DH slot as well as both outfield corners."
Only Joyce can answer how he will respond to whatever is thrown his way this season. In the past, some, including Joyce, have speculated that his lack of production could be attributed to his penchant for pressing.
"This year, I'm just going to relax, enjoy myself and try to put up some good at-bats," Joyce said. "We have a great team here. We're excited about that. What more could you ask for?"
Joyce has worked hard in the offseason to pack on some extra muscle. But the biggest component for finding success this season could be as simple as learning how to handle the disciplines of daily DH duty.
"Just routine, getting into a routine," said Joyce when asked about the mental side of the role. "Learning how to time the things, to prepare yourself for those at-bats. Mentally prepare. My biggest thing is I've always been so hard on myself. I expect a lot of myself, and I know what I'm capable of, so sometimes that works against me."
Clearly, Joyce covets being a complete player. That desire is counterbalanced by his love of playing for the Rays and the direction the team is headed. He is focused on the team and, clearly, he sees good things happening.
"Obviously, Andrew and those guys are at it again," Joyce said. "They know what they're doing. They've done a great job the last couple of years of putting a team together that has a chance of being really successful. And they did it again this offseason. Obviously they're spending a little bit more money to bring guys back, like [David] Price.
"I don't think anything really fit perfectly in their cards for him. But obviously, we're so excited to have him back. He's a huge part of the team. He's a huge boost to the clubhouse. But overall, bringing guys like [James] Loney back, [Grant] Balfour, those are huge additions to the team. So we definitely have a chance to be pretty good."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less