BALTIMORE — Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon did something Tuesday he wouldn't have considered doing a week ago. He moved LF Matt Joyce to the cleanup spot.
“Matt's been swinging the bat well,” Maddon said. “He's been swinging the bat well against these guys here. I felt if we did not put him there, he's not going to get pitched to here.”
Joyce had two hits in Monday's win, including a two-run homer in the fourth inning that turned out to be the difference in the game. He entered Tuesday's game with a .333 average during his previous 18 games. He had hit .165 in 31 games (22 starts) leading up to this run.
“Honestly, it's hard to give an explanation, because I just feel like the last couple of months have been a battle, just a grind,” Joyce said of his resurgence.
His home run last Friday off Toronto RHP R.A. Dickey was a significant moment for a number of reasons: it snapped a streak of 123 homer-less at-bats, it came at the end of an 11-pitch at-bat, and it gave Joyce that feel of hitting a home run again.
“Now you have a better feel for the swing that you do want to take, maybe you have a little more confidence,” Joyce said.
Maddon moved Joyce up in the order for another reason. Popping a lefty between Evan Longoria and Wil Myers would impact the way Orioles manager Buck Showalter would use his bullpen, most notably side-arming RHP Darren O'Day.
But Maddon said Joyce would not have been an option Tuesday if not for his recent success at the plate.
“For me, the biggest difference is he's back in his strike zone,” Maddon said. “He's accepting his walks, he's not expanding.”
Joyce walked and scored in his first at-bat Tuesday then drove in the Rays' second run with a sacrifice fly in the third inning.
No pain in Moore's elbow
LHP Matt Moore (sore left elbow) threw a change-up Tuesday pain-free for the first time since July 28, when he made his last start before going on the disabled list.
Moore, who is scheduled to throw a bullpen session this afternoon, threw change-ups while playing long-toss Tuesday with LHP David Price.
“That's huge,” Moore said. “Was I in a game throwing it off the mound with Robby Cano up there? No. But at the same time, having that clean arm stroke, the ball coming out the way it needs to, the way I intend it to be down the road is a lot like it is all year.”
Moore will throw a simulated game Saturday. Maddon said the team will decide after that whether Moore needs to throw another simulated game, make a minor league rehab start or join the rotation.
“It could be probably more than likely a rehab start,” Maddon said. “Outside chance, it could be an actual game, but I don't think so. It could be even another bullpen then set him up for a start. There's a bunch of potentials right there.”
The big pitch
Price was able to strand 10 runners on base in his five innings Monday because he made the big pitch when he needed to make one.
RHP Jeremy Hellickson, who faces the Orioles tonight, noticed.
“What he did (Monday) was pretty amazing,” Hellickson said. “He never got down. He always knew he was one pitch away from getting out of it, and he always made the good pitch and got the pop-up he needed or the ground ball. That's what I've been trying to do the last couple of games and hopefully can do (tonight).”
Hellickson has allowed 80 runs this season, 40 with two outs. Opponents are hitting .330 against him with runners in scoring position and .429 with RISP and two outs.
“I gave up a lot of two-out runs,” he said. “Two out, nobody on, I give up two, three hits in a row. It has been kind of frustrating. I really can't think about it. Just got to move on. If it comes down to it again, just got to make that pitch.”
The Rays allowed 15 hits Monday for the 180th time in team history. But it was the only time during those games that they allowed only three runs. ... The Orioles were the third team this season to have at least 15 hits and 15 runners on base and score three or fewer runs this season (Phillies, Giants). It's been done only nine times since 1916.