PORT CHARLOTTE — Matt Joyce planned to push his way into the right-field picture this spring, but so far the only impression he has made in Tampa Bay Rays camp is bringing a sandwich to a team meeting, a faux pas that resulted in his teammates bringing a sandwich to Joyce during the morning stretch last Friday and setting up a table and chair so Joyce could eat in comfort.
Joyce, acquired from the Detroit Tigers in the December trade that sent pitcher Edwin Jackson to Detroit, has been bothered by pain between his calf and ankle in his right leg and hasn’t been able to participate in any games or workouts.
“It’s driving me nuts from the beginning,” Joyce said. “Each day it gets a little crazier.”
Joyce has had two MRIs that revealed a strain and inflammation.
“But if it was a strain,” Joyce said, “it would be healed by now. I was getting treatment back in January. It’s just frustrating. I want to be out there.”
Joyce felt the pain after a particularly strenuous workout in December. He never expected it to last this long.
“Two whole months and the thing is not better,” he said.
The Rays were willing to trade Jackson, whose 14 victories last season tied the franchise record for wins in a season, for the 24-year-old Joyce, who spent two tours with the Tigers in 2008. The Rays like Joyce’s defense in right field and, of course, his power. The left-hander hit 12 home runs in 242 at-bats. His .492 slugging percentage was third among major league rookies behind Chris Davis of the Texas Rangers (.549) and Evan Longoria (.531). Joyce’s home runs every 20.17 at-bats was fourth among major leagues rookies.
While the Rays will start the season with a right-field platoon of Gabe Gross and Gabe Kapler, meaning Joyce is headed to Triple-A Durham in April, the team is anxious to see what they got in the trade for Jackson.
And Joyce is anxious to show them.
Joyce thinks he will be ready to play in games soon.
“I’ll be back on the field shortly. Hopefully it’s this weekend,” he said. “Hopefully (the injury) disappears tomorrow.”
Yet, Joyce has felt that way for some time and still, he spends most of his day in the training room.
When asked if he is concerned about the injury, Joyce replied, “yes and no.”
“I’m concerned because I want to get out there and play,” he said.
But he’s not concerned the injury isn’t the tip of a long-term problem.
“I know (the trainers) are going to find a solution,” he said.
Joyce felt he made significant progress Monday. While the Rays made the trip to the east coast to play the Cardinals in Jupiter, Joyce remained at the complex in Port Charlotte where he took batting practice and participated in the workout with the rest of the players who didn’t make the trip.
“I told them I felt great,” Joyce said. “I was 90 percent (Monday).”
Tuesday was a different story.
“I come in and take a step backward,” he said. “And sometimes that happens. You take two or three steps forward, and you take a step back. It’s just kind of a part of the process.”
He was encouraged the step backward was a small step and not, as he said, “all the way to square one.”
“It wasn’t as bad as it was a week ago,” Joyce said. “So that’s a good thing. But I wish I could be out there. Even if I wasn’t doing well, you just want to be on the field. You just want to play, get to know the other guys and build that team chemistry and stuff.”