Journeyman Matt Joyce was a late-spring add to the Braves’ roster. He was a placeholder, ultimately making the roster because the Braves couldn’t find a better alternative.
Now comes the part where he makes his case to stick around.
When the Braves acquired Joyce, he joined his third team within a week. Cleveland released him, then he briefly joined the Giants before they flipped him to the Braves. Joyce took the fourth outfielder role that Adam Duvall couldn’t secure.
“He’s an experienced guy, a pro who will give you a really good at-bat,” manager Brian Snitker said. “He knows that role. And he’s a perfect fit for a guy coming off the bench in the National League.”
Joyce, who fares significantly better against righties than lefties, introduced himself with a pinch-hit homer opening day in Philadelphia. It was his seventh-career pinch-hit shot, second most among active players.
Yet he’s barely been heard from since that moment. Joyce made his first start Saturday, handling left field in Cleveland, and homered once again. The Braves saw it as an opportunity to finally get Joyce more at-bats.
“It’s a tough role when you’re getting one at-bat a game, sometimes one at-bat in a few games,” said Joyce, who has one extra-base hit since his homer. “So for me, I had a lot of experience in ’16 with Pittsburgh, so it helped me prepare and learn the role, have a better idea of what to expect walking into this situation. For me, you just prepare the best you can, get your body ready and up to game speed, and simplify it as much as possible. … Baseball’s hard enough as it is. The more you can simplify it, the better.”
It was in a losing effort, but Joyce planted a 1-1 pitch into the center-field seats in the seventh inning Saturday. His homer followed Brian McCann’s, making it the first time the Braves went back-to-back this year.
Joyce had a couple of solid seasons with Pittsburgh and Oakland from 2016-17. Joyce hit .243/.358/.470 with 38 homers and 110 RBIs over that time. He played in 140 and 141 games, respectively. He struggled last season, appearing in only 83 games and seeing an offensive decline across the board, in part because of a back injury.
The 34-year-old posted a .186 mark (8-for-43) across 17 spring games. He’s working with a sample size of 11 at-bats for the Braves, where he’s collected just two hits (a homer and double). He’s far from a lock to remain on the roster, as he’s well-aware, and he’s appreciative to even have the chance.
“It’s one of those situations where you don’t take a day for granted,” he said. “Try to make the most of every opportunity and enjoy it. I’m 34 at this point. I see a lot of older guys who aren’t getting the same opportunities to continue playing. The game is going younger and obviously these guys are extremely talented. So for me, I just try to enjoy it as much as possible. This is a great group to do it with.”
Joyce speaks highly of the Braves’ harvested prospects and veterans alike. He attests the group made it an easy transition despite the pandemonium of the week before he joined the club.
It took roughly a week for life to slow down, but Joyce felt he quickly settled in. From the Braves’ perspective, they added someone with enough of a resume to make them feel more comfortable with their outfield situation.
“It’s a great group of guys,” he said. “We have a lot of young pitchers, a lot of young talent, some veterans who understand the game and know how to lead. It’s a pretty easy fit. Guys really, really made it comfortable from day one. So I’ve had a really good time. Just having fun and keeping it rolling.”