Joyce has hit bot­tom

For­mer cleanup hit­ter falls to ninth in lineup, and An­gels are con­sid­er­ing other op­tions in left field.

Los Angeles Times - - BASEBALL - By Mike DiGio­vanna mike.digio­vanna@la­times.com Twit­ter:@MikeDiGio­vanna

Matt Joyce might have reached the prover­bial last house on the block, and there does not ap­pear to be un­lim­ited park­ing out front.

Af­ter open­ing 2015 in the cleanup spot and hit­ting sixth or sev­enth for most of the sea­son, the An­gels left fielder was dropped to ninth Satur­day night against the Oak­land Ath­let­ics. Joyce went 0 for 3, but C.J. Wil­son threw two-hit ball over seven innings and the An­gels won, 1-0.

“I’d be ly­ing if I said I wasn’t frus­trated and dis­ap­pointed,” Joyce said of his de­scent to the bot­tom of the or­der. “But I’m still in the lineup. I’m still get­ting a chance to play and­make the most of it.”

Those chances could dry up very soon if Joyce, 30, doesn’t shake a sea­son-long slump and give the An­gels some­thing close to the pro­duc­tion they ex­pected when they traded re­liever Kevin Jepsen to Tampa Bay for Joyce last win­ter.

Joyce en­tered Satur­day with a .181 av­er­age, .266 on-base per­cent­age, .316 slug­ging per­cent­age, four homers, 17 runs bat­ted in, 46 strike­outs and 18 walks. His wins-above re­place­ment mark of -1.3 was the sec­ond-low­est among ma­jor league qual­i­fiers.

As a com­par­i­son, Raul Ibanez had a .157/.258/.265 slash line with three homers and 21 RBIs when the An­gels re­leased him last June 21.

Gen­eral Manager Jerry Dipoto is pur­su­ing left-handed-hit­ting out­field­ers in trades, and Efren Navarro, who has a knack for string­ing to­gether qual­ity at-bats, could cut into Joyce’s play­ing time.

The An­gels even be­gan work­ing out third base­man Kyle Ku­b­itza, who was called up from triple-A Salt Lake on Wed­nes­day, in left field Satur­day to give them an­other pos­si­ble left-handed-hit­ting op­tion in the out­field. Ku­b­itza has played all of two mi­nor league games in left field in five years.

“I re­mem­ber Gene Mauch say­ing some­thing that al­ways stuck with me, that hit­ters will hit,” An­gels hit­ting coach Don Baylor said. “It might take two weeks, three weeks, a month, but hit­ters will hit.

“So I keep think­ing that will hap­pen with Matt, where some­thing clicks, he gets a cou­ple of hits, he comes back the next day feel­ing good about him­self and gets a cou­ple more hits. He’s just try­ing to fig­ure his swing out.”

Joyce, who had a .250 ca­reer av­er­age with 88 homers in six sea­sons en­ter­ing 2015, im­proved dur­ing a 23-game stretch from May 12 through last Tues­day, com­pil­ing a .254/.361/.479 slash line with three homers, seven dou­bles, 10 RBIs and 10 walks. But he has no RBIs in his last 11 games.

“I’m now here near where I’d like tobe,” Joyce said. “It’s a daily grind. No­body’s go­ing to lay pitches over the heart of the plate. De­fenses aren’t go­ing to let balls go by them. I’m try­ing to get good pitches and square them up.”

That has been a chal­lenge. Joyce’s hard-hit rate, the per­cent­age of balls he puts in play that are clas­si­fied as hard hit, is a ca­reer­low 23.6% ac­cord­ing to Fan­graphs, far be­low his ca­reer rate of 30.7%.

Ac­cord­ing to Brooks Base­ball, the ma­jor­ity of Joyce’s strike­outs are on off-speed and break­ing pitches, not fast­balls.

“Just imag­ine if he wasn’t tak­ing his walks,” Baylor said. “A lot of times when you’re not swing­ing good, you’re swing­ing at ev­ery­thing.”

Joyce’s im­proved OBP is one of the rea­sons he was moved to the ninth spot.

“The one thing Matt has been do­ing is get­ting on base,” Manager Mike Scios­cia said. “Though it’s not ideal for any player to say I’m hit­ting ninth, it’s im­por­tant to the struc­ture of our lineup with Mike [Trout] hit­ting sec­ond and Al­bert [Pu­jols] third.”

The ma­jor­ity of Joyce’s ground balls are hit to the right side, and with op­po­nents heav­ily shift­ing against Joyce, most are outs.

Joyce said he works on hit­ting to the op­po­site field in bat­ting prac­tice, “but you can’t re­ally force it to hap­pen,” he said. “If they throw it out­side, try to stay on it and hit it that way. It’s a lot eas­ier said than done.”

Baylor had some pointed words for Joyce and Pu­jols about ex­treme de­fen­sive align­ments.

“I told them a month ago, ‘Screw the shift,’ ” Baylor said. “Just hit the ball and let it go where it’s go­ing to go. You might hit into the shift. And you might el­e­vate a ball and hit it out of the park.”

Mark J. Ter­rill As­so­ci­ated Press

OAK­LAND’S Josh Phe­g­ley is dou­bled off sec­ond base by An­gels short­stop Erick Ay­bar to end the sev­enth in­ning af­ter first base­man Efren Navarro snagged a line drive by Stephen Vogt.

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