A guy here in the office, a pretty knowledgeable baseball fan actually, was asked the other day to name the former Tiger who’s leading all of the American League in hitting.
So in his head, he went up and down just about every team’s lineup before he got to Tampa Bay, where he quickly dismissed the chances it Was Matt Joyce, and kept going.
But it is Joyce, who, after going 1-for-3 in Thursday’s 7-4 victory over Cleveland, is batting .358, best in the AL, just ahead of much-more-established guys like Jason Kubel, Jose Bautista, Michael Young and Travis Hafner.
Joyce, with his string of nagging injuries finally seemingly over and with Carl Crawford leaving town, is getting a chance to play just about every day, and is producing in impressive fashion, especially lately. This month, he’s batting .452. On the year, in 34 games, he has 13 multi-hit games (two more than Miguel Cabrera), including four three-hit games (two more than Cabrera).
“The hits are falling for me now,” Joyce, 26, told The Tampa Tribune. “Hopefully they’ll keep falling the whole season.”
The Rays can only hope, too, after taking a chance on the outfielder who got his start in Detroit. A 12th-round pick by the Tigers in 2005, he made his major league debut in 2008, and the following December he was acquired by Tampa Bay for hard-throwing starting pitcher Edwin Jackson.
Jackson, 27, went on to have a phenomenal season in Detroit in 2009 (13-9, 3.62 ERA), and has been more up-and-down since with the Diamondbacks and, now, the White Sox, though he came back to no-hit his former team last June.
Joyce, meanwhile, didn’t pay immediate dividends, mostly because he couldn’t stay healthy. He had a series of frustrating leg injuries throughout the spring in 2009, and in 2010, an elbow problem cost him much of the first two months of the season.
He ended up playing 77 games for Tampa Bay last season, batting .241 with 10 home runs — one being a memorable grand slam July 26, in his first game against his former team, Detroit, to end Max Scherzer’s no-hit bid in the sixth inning.
This season, meanwhile, Joyce is playing a much more starring role, and his bat has been central in igniting a team that, despite an 0-6 start, today is leading the AL East. (Surprise efforts by Casey Kotchman, Johnny Damon and Sam Fuld have helped, too.)
“He’s just got into a nice little groove right now,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said of Joyce, talking to The Tribune. “He’s not missing his pitch when he sees it.”
Of course, he’s getting lots of good pitches to hit, batting, lately, right behind perennial All-Star Evan Longoria. But Joyce is being selective, too, not swinging
If there’s one thing he hasn’t done in 2011, it’s hit lefties well. Of course, he’s not getting many opportunities either. In 94
And that — playing every day — of course is the utlimate goal for Joyce.
“You can’t control if you get a hit or not,” Joyce said. “But you can control whether or not you have a good