Rays Swap In Playing Time Coming

J. Meric

With the Rays scheduled to take on a a solid block of right handed starters the lineup should see much more of James Loney & Matt Joyce.

The Rays have faced 8 left-handed starters this season and have an impressive 6-2 record in those games. In their first 15 games they only saw three left handed starters in Wei-Yin Chen, Derek Holland, and Jon Lester but in their past seven games they have faced five lefties in Brett Anderson, Tommy Milone, CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte , and Chris Sale.

Early in the year one player that seemed to suffer from rusting out was Sean Rodriguez. In those first 15 games he only had 17 plate appearances and hit a miserable .143 (2 for 14) but with increased playing time against the southpaw starters he responded by hitting .429 (6 for 14). While Rodriguez has seeing ample playing time during this recent stretch James Loney and Matt Joyce find themselves playing the Rodriguez role of waiting for consistent playing time to return.

For James Loney the waiting has been much more easy to manage because unlike Matt Joyce he performed well during his extended playing time and also finds his way into most games as a defensive replacement at first base. During the first 15 games he hit .289 (11 for 38) and drew 5 walks resulting in a .372 on-base percentage and 5 of his 11 hits went for extra bases resulting in a slugging percentage of .474.

In his career Loney struggles against left-handed pitchers (.664 career OPS), so despite the impressive start with the bat manager Joe Maddon has chosen not to start him against the left handed pitchers which has resulted in only 11 plate appearances over the Rays last 7 games but has hit .455 (5 for 11). On the season he has only had 3 plate appearances against left handed pitchers and is 3 for 3 with a double.

On the other hand the absence of playing time must be gnawing at Matt Joyce's conscience. While he received consistent playing time early in the year he struggled. During the first 15 games of the season he received 48 plate appearances and never got the motor running hitting .196 (9 for 46) and struck out ten times while walking only twice. In the Rays last 7 games he has only received 9 plate appearances and is 1 for 8 but the one hit was a solo homer in the Rays 1-0 victory over the Oakland Athletics on April 20th.

Both James Loney and Matt Joyce are about to receive another ample dose of playing time over the next several weeks as the Rays face a steady stream of right handed starters. More than likely in seven of their next nine game the Rays will face left handed starter. They will face a trio of right handers to conclude the series against the White Sox in Jake Peavy, Gavin Floyd, and Dylan Axelrod. They then travel to Kansas City where they'll take on the Royals and face three righties in James Shields, Ervin Santana, and Jeremy Guthrie. More than likely, depending how the Rockies juggle their rotation after a Thursday off day, the Rays will most likely see both left hand starters Jeff Francis and Jorge De La Rosa.

The stretch of games will be important for Sean Rodriguez to remain sharp, for James Loney to continue his solid early season hitting, but most important for Matt Joyce to step up and shake his slump that now has persisted going back to the 2nd half of the 2012 season.

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