Tampa Bay’s struggling offense gets a boost tonight, as Matt Joyce returns from the disabled list after missing the past month with an oblique injury.
Joyce went 2-for-8 with a double in two games at Single-A and his return as the Rays’ primary right fielder means that Ben Zobrist will shift from the outfield to second base.
To make room for Joyce on the roster the Rays optioned Will Rhymes to Triple-A after the 29-year-old infielder hit just .233 with one homer and a .598 OPS in 45 games. Joyce batted .279 with 11 homers and an .899 OPS in 62 games before the injury and has been one of the more underrated hitters in the league since becoming a regular in 2010.
As a team the Rays have hit just .222 with a .301 on-base percentage and .347 slugging percentage since June 1.
The Rays have been without their best hitter in Evan Longoria for almost two months now. Now they’re going to be without their second-best for at least two weeks.
Matt Joyce, who leads the team in average, homers and RBI this season, was placed on the disabled list due to his back injury. He last played in Tuesday’s game against the Rays.
The Joyce move was one of six made by the Rays today. The team also optioned outfielder Rich Thompson to Triple-A and designated infielder Drew Sutton for assignment.
Added to the roster were infielders Brooks Conrad and Jeff Keppinger and reliever Brandon Gomes. Conrad was claimed off waivers from the Brewers on Thursday, while Keppinger had been on the DL for the last month due to a broken toe.
Gomes was needed to help out in the pen. With Joel Peralta dropping his appeal Friday, the Rays will play with a 24-man roster for the next eight days.
It certainly won’t be easy going for the Rays offense with both Joyce and Longoria out. Ben Zobrist figures to get most of his time in the outfield while Joyce is sidelined, leaving the Rays to pick between Keppinger, Conrad, Elliot Johnson, Sean Rodriguez and Will Rhymes for three infield spots every night.
Evan Longoria has been gradually increasing his workouts this week and his partially torn left hamstring has responded well enough that a minor-league rehab assignment is right around the corner.
Greg Zeck of MLB.com reports that Longoria could see his first game action as soon as Friday if he can avoid a setback while testing the hamstring by running Thursday.
Tampa Bay has handled Longoria’s absence well, going 20-17 without him in the lineup despite the third baseman getting off to an excellent start before the injury. Will Rhymes and Sean Rodriguez have been splitting third base duties in his place, so even if he’s less than 100 percent healthy initially Longoria will be a huge upgrade.
After Franklin Morales drilled Luke Scott in the top of the ninth — apparent retaliation for a plunking of Dustin Pedroia earlier — benches cleared in Friday’s game between the Rays and Red Sox at Fenway Park, which Tampa Bay went on to win 7-4.
Some bad blood likely carried over from last week’s series in Tampa Bay, in which the Rays hit Adrian Gonzalez and Morales later came back and plunked Will Rhymes. It was a similar scene tonight, with Pedroia getting hit and the Red Sox later going after Scott. Morales actually threw behind Scott once before coming back and hitting him in the knee.
The oddity is that neither Morales nor Scott, who held on to his bat while jawing at Morales after the plunking, was ejected from the game. Morales certainly deserved to be tossed; his intentions were clear after he threw behind Scott. Scott didn’t really do much wrong himself.
Also unusual: the coaching staffs seemed much more interested in mixing it up than the players did after the benches cleared. Rays coaches George Hendrick and Jim Hickey and Red Sox coach Tim Bogar — a former Rays coach — and manager Bobby Valentine seemed more belligerent that anyone else.
After things appeared to settle down and the parties returned to their dugouts, there was another incident, this one apparently involving some fans, that had B.J. Upton coming back out of the Rays dugout and pointing up to the stands. We may hear more about what happened there after the game.
Morales went on to finish the inning after order was restored. Still, he could well find himself suspended for a few games for his actions tonight.