Angels outfielder Matt Joyce's hamstring passes test

Angels outfielder Matt Joyce's hamstring passes test
Angels outfielder Matt Joyce rounds the bases after hitting a home run in Wednesday's 4-3 spring training win. (Matt York / Associated Press)

The worst thing that happened to outfielder Matt Joyce on Wednesday was actually a good thing for the Angels left fielder.

Joyce singled, hit a home run to right-center field and walked in three at bats during the Angels' 4-3 exhibition win over the Cleveland Indians in Tempe Diablo Stadium. He also made a diving catch of Brett Hayes' liner in the fourth inning.

But it was when he was thrown out at the plate trying to score from first base and his balky right hamstring held up that was the most encouraging thing that happened.

"You know, it was a really good test," said Joyce, who sat out all but one of the previous seven games. "The hamstring felt great. It's just reassuring to go out there and not worry about something hurting and to feel healthy going into the season."


Joyce, slowed in camp by a tight quadriceps and soreness in his rib cage, has played only nine games. He tried to come back from his initial hamstring injury too soon, setting him back four or five days. But he felt ready for Wednesday's challenge.

"Baseball is a game that tests you out of the gate to make sure you're healthy, and sure enough, I get a hit in my first at-bat, and [C.J.] Cron hits a double down the line," Joyce said. "I was a little hesitant coming around third to see if [third base coach Gary DiSarcina] was going to send me, and he was waving his arm."

The Angels are counting on the left-handed-hitting Joyce, acquired from Tampa Bay over the off-season, to bat cleanup behind Mike Trout and Albert Pujols against right-handed pitchers. So the the sooner Joyce finds his timing at the plate, the better for the team.

"He ran out of gas around third, but his swing looked great today," Manager Mike Scioscia said. "If you look at our projected lineup, there are only three left-handed hitters, Matt, Kole Calhoun and Erick Aybar, and Matt is the only one who can hit in the middle of the order. His bat is important to us."

No guarantees

Hector Santiago will be in the rotation to open the season. How long the left-hander holds it depends on how he and the fifth starter — Nick Tropeano, Andrew Heaney or possibly Drew Rucinski — are pitching when Garrett Richards returns in mid-April from knee surgery.

Santiago looked sharp in six innings of a "B" game against the Indians, giving up one run and two hits, striking out nine and walking one. He threw first-pitch strikes to 13 of 20 batters. He needed only 80 pitches to complete six innings, so he threw 10 more pitches in the bullpen.

"Hector had some of the best stuff we've seen," Scioscia said. "I think his delivery was good, and his ability to change speeds was there."

Santiago was 0-6 with a 5.19 earned-run average in his first seven starts of 2014 and was demoted to the bullpen and then to triple A in May.

He was 5-2 with a 2.98 ERA in 15 games, 12 of them starts, after the All-Star break, but that guaranteed him nothing. If he doesn't pitch well in April, he could go back to the bullpen.

"I've prepared myself to pitch 180-200 innings, but if it happens, it happens," Santiago said. "It's part of the game. You have to respect it. … I'll be disappointed but not upset by it. I'll go to bullpen, do my job, put up zeroes and hopefully get back into the rotation."