ST. PETERSBURG — The sheet of white paper that lists the Tampa Bay Rays starting lineup and is taped each day to a clubhouse wall by bullpen coach Stan Boroski is no longer a threat to Matt Joyce.
If Joyce is playing, great.
If not, OK.
If Joyce is playing left or right field, great.
If he is in the lineup as the designated hitter well ... not great, but good enough.
The negative feelings Joyce had in past seasons when he did not see his name in the lineup or when saddled with the dreaded DH chores have faded.
“I don’t want to fight it,” Joyce said. “I don’t want to have any negativity in this clubhouse. I’m taking a different view of things.”
The change is not because Joyce has come to terms with not being an every day player.
“Every player wants to be an every day player,” he said.
It is because Joyce has comes to terms with who he is on the baseball field.
“It’s not because I’m not good in the outfield. I know I’m a good outfielder,” he said. “I’m DH for whatever reason. I don’t know? I just know that I can play every day, and that makes me OK with it.”
With no true DH on the roster and with the left-handed hitting David DeJesus considered to be a better defender, Joyce will get plenty of starts as the DH. Last year Joyce bristled when he saw himself listed as the DH. Now he said he goes about his daily pregame routine and prepares for his four at-bats that night.
“I don’t want to be one of those guys who are labeled as just a DH, just a left-handed pull hitter. I can do a lot more,” he said. “If you can play the game and bring a lot elements to the game then you need to, you have to. Negativity is always bad. I’m just trying to stay out of my own way.”
The season is still young – only three weeks of games have been played. Yet Joyce is off to a good start with a .341 batting average, a .456 on-base percentage and a .568 slugging percentage. He has 10 walks.
Joyce is also working on hitting the ball to left field to combat the over-shift to right field. He has bunted up the third base line for one hit and dropped a double to a wide open left field for another.
Of his 11 opposite field hits in 2013, only one went for extra bases.
“I think the biggest thing now is he’s controlling the controllables,” Rays hitting coach Derek Shelton said. “He’s not worrying about stuff that’s out of his control, whether he’s playing or doesn’t play, whether he’s the DH or not the DH. He’s not worrying about that, and that’s a good thing. When you spend so much time worrying about what you can’t control, it goes over into the times when you’re focused on the things you can control. I think it’s a sign of him maturing and becoming more of a complete player.”
Joyce would love the chance to prove he can hit left-handers. His career numbers say he cannot – .190 batting average, .265 on-base percentage and .315 slugging percentage. Only eight of his career 81 home runs have come against lefties.
“The way the game is today, we got so much information, so many things go into making a lineup,” bench coach Dave Martinez said. “We don’t think anything bad about Matt Joyce. Matt Joyce is going to help us win a lot of games now and in the future as well. I think he understands that now.”
Martinez, a left-handed hitter himself, played 16 years in the big leagues. Some years Martinez was an every day player, other years he was not.
“I told him I came in expecting to play every day and if I wasn’t in the lineup, you know what? It wasn’t my choice. So I got ready for the game and if I was called upon to play, help the team, that’s what I was going to do. The next day, if I was in the lineup, great. If not, I got my work in and stayed ready,” Martinez said. “He has a definitely better understanding of that.”
Joyce has a choice when he sees the lineup card. He can be selfish or selfless. He has moved past the former and is on to the latter.
“We have a lot of good players here,” Joyce said. “I want to be a great teammate. I want to be known as a great teammate. I want to be on a winning team. Shoot man, I want to make the World Series and win. At the end of the day, that’s the mission, that’s the goal.”
Besides, there is nothing wrong with being the DH on a World Series-winning team.
“No kidding,” Joyce said. “You never know what can happen.”