After he rounded first base safely for the first time in eight games, Matt Joyce put his hands on his helmet, then opened his palms to the sky and looked upward. His misery at the plate had finally ended. He'd hit a single.
On first base, Joyce took a big breath, then exhaled. Teammates celebrated.
"I got that ball for you," third base coach Gary DiSarcina teased him.
"I haven't exactly been tearing the cover off the ball," said Joyce, the Angels' left fielder.
With the trade of Josh Hamilton to the Rangers nearing completion, there is no replacement in waiting. Joyce is the Angels starter in left field. Manager Mike Scioscia has given him time to discover his swing. But, especially if Hamilton does not return, the Angels can use a spark.
Even before Hamilton reported a relapse in his battle with substance abuse, the Angels anticipated a need for outfield help. The team was interested enough in Joyce to trade away Kevin Jepsen, who anchored the seventh inning last season and helped transform the Angels bullpen into one of the league's best, to the Tampa Bay Rays.
Before the swoon, he had hits in five of his last 16 at-bats. Then, on April 17, he began a spiral.
His timing was off, he said. He was late, so he overcompensated and rushed. He couldn't find the right tweaks.
"Sometimes it's a tough game," Joyce said. "It seems like you try everything, and you put in so much time and effort and work, it gets to be frustrating. It gets to be hard to swallow and accept it, and hard to keep showing up and grinding it out."
Joyce slid down the order, but kept his starting spot. Scioscia has avoided putting a timeframe for Joyce to find his wing.
"You have to certainly give Matt enough of a leash," Scioscia said.
"Matt's going to hit," he added. "He can hit. He'll figure it out."
Joyce called the support "awesome." Then, a few days ago, Joyce said, he started feeling more comfortable. He spoke with Albert Pujols and worked with the coaches to chip away at his mechanical problems.
The hit, he said, was "a relief. Like, oh God, finally I got a hit."
It also came at an important time in the game. The score was tied, 2-2, and the Angels had a runner on base. The hit helped load the bases for a Johnny Giavotella go-ahead single, which the Angels squandered in the ninth inning.
Joyce said he hopes he has turned a corner. Scioscia said the failure at the plate is conspicuous because it came at the beginning of the year, when one slump can torpedo a batting average.
"You're naked at the beginning of the season," Scioscia said. "Everything's out there. If you're struggling, there's no hiding it."
If Joyce is unable to stabilize, the Angels have some limited options. On the 25-man roster, there is Collin Cowgill and Grant Green. Cowgill, though, is batting .184 in 38 at-bats and Green has only five at-bats. They could also recall Efren Navarro from triple A.
For now, Joyce has the confidence of the team.