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.
Tied at a league-leading 10 home runs apiece with Cody Bellinger and Khris Davis, it wasn’t long before Brewers slugger Christian Yelich set himself apart from the competition yet again. During the bottom of the first inning on Friday, the 2018 NL MVP singled out the first pitch he saw from the Dodgers’ Ross Stripling — an 86.5-m.p.h. slider just wide of the strike zone — and returned it to the second deck seats in right field for his 11th home run of 2019.
While Bellinger and Davis will undoubtedly continue to make it difficult for Yelich to claim sole honors at the top of the leaderboard, the 27-year-old outfielder has had a banner year so far. Through the first three weeks of the season, he’s batting a strong .354/.447/.823 with 15 extra-base hits, 29 RBI, and three stolen bases across 94 plate appearances. The 29 RBI (27 entering Friday’s game) he collected between March and April eclipsed Prince Fielder’s previous franchise record of 26 RBI — and there’s no telling how much higher that total will rise by the end of the month, too.
Even with the benefit of Yelich’s immense talents, however, the Brewers are just clinging to a first-place tie with the Pirates atop the NL Central. They dropped their last two games to the Cardinals and Dodgers, respectively, and will need to overturn the remainder of their series against LA to build up their division lead again. They’re currently tied 2-2 with the Dodgers in the seventh.