Manager Joe Maddon is so enamored of OF Matt Joyce's power that he sees him as a potential heart-of-the-order hitter in the Rays lineup one day, he said Sunday.
"Right now he'd probably hit sixth or seventh," Maddon said in a lengthy commentary on the Tampa native before the Rays' 11-2 spring win against the Reds. "But as he gets older and if things were to continue to evolve, he could definitely move up in the batting order.
"But, I mean, this guy has some kind of potential with the bat."
Joyce, who the Rays got from Detroit for RHP Edwin Jackson, has overcome lower leg tendinitis to put himself in contention for a backup outfielder position.
He started in center field Sunday and went 2-for-4 with a two-run double and run scored. Both hits came in an eight-run fourth inning against Bronson Arroyo, a Hernando High grad and 15-game winner last year.
It would appear Joyce, 24, has moved ahead of OF Justin Ruggiano, 26, in the Rays' thinking, but Maddon wouldn't go that far. Ruggiano was optioned to Triple-A Durham last week and still could be recalled.
"They're two different guys," Maddon said, noting that Joyce bats left and Ruggiano hits from the right side. While Joyce has more power, Ruggiano "might" hit for a higher average. "It's just a matter of what we want or need."
KEPT WAITING: There's was still no white smoke from the Rays on whether RHP Jeff Niemann or RHP Jason Hammel will be their fifth starting pitcher. Maddon said the club has had "some good conversations" and should have a decision early this week.
If last impressions are important, favorite Hammel should be in good shape after pitching five shutout innings and allowing only a pair of hits Saturday.
Then again, Niemann was pretty good in his most recent outing. Rebounding from a disaster in his previous appearance, he allowed one run on five hits through four innings against the Pirates last Wednesday.
Niemann should get to make one final argument. He'll pitch in a minor-league game today at Port Charlotte if the fields are playable at Charlotte Sports Park after a hard rain Sunday.
NOT MEAN: Niemann is 6-foot-9, 260 pounds and has a downward angle fastball that can be intimidating. But he doesn't often pitch with much ferocity.
Maddon was asked if it would help if the kinesiology major at Rice got a little meaner.
"Some guys are more demonstrative in their appearance in regard to being aggressive, and some are less," the manager said. "It's always about what's going on inside a person. Jeff is a nice man. When he pitches, I've seen him get upset. We all have different ways of controlling our emotions."
Maddon said it would be "contrived" for Niemann to change his demeanor at this point in his career and bring a Grant Balfour-like intensity to the mound.
"If you were going to do that, you have had to have done it 10 years ago," he said. "It's hard to contrive that at this level at this particular moment. I think it's something innate - it's part of you or it's not."
ALSO NOTABLE: CF B.J. Upton's DH assignment in a minor-league game was washed out. Upton is scheduled to play center field for five innings and bat four times in a Triple-A game today. ... Adam Kennedy, Shawn Riggans and Ray Olmedo each had three hits Sunday.