Joyce flashes 102 mph heat in stellar debut

Angels' No. 9 prospect strikes out two in a scoreless inning of relief

May 30th, 2023

CHICAGO -- During his pregame media session on Monday, Angels manager Phil Nevin said there was a “fairly good chance” would make his Major League debut later that evening.

Whether Nevin could have prepared the 22-year-old flamethrower for the situation he was called on for or not, the club's No. 9 prospect handled it like a 10-year veteran.

Joyce, who was called up from Double-A Rocket City on Sunday, entered in the seventh inning with the Angels clinging to a one-run lead over the White Sox. He pitched a scoreless frame -- striking out a pair of batters while firing triple-digit fastball after triple-digit fastball -- in Los Angeles’ 6-4 win at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“Ideally, yeah, you want to have a soft landing,” Nevin said. “But, hey, that's what we had available tonight. [Joyce] came in, and it didn't look like any moment was too big for him.”

When Nevin called Joyce’s number in relief of starter , the Angels led 4-3, with all four runs having scored in the top of the first inning. It would be easy for that type of moment to get the best of any pitcher, let alone a rookie who was drafted less than a year ago.

Before the frame, catcher met Joyce at the mound when he arrived from the bullpen, and he was impressed with the right-hander’s demeanor.

“Very cool, calm and collected,” said Thaiss of Joyce, adding he did the same thing during Sam Bachman’s debut last week. “First big league outing. If you're a position player, you're kind of hidden in nine people. When you’re a pitcher, it's all eyes on you, and you've got the ball.”

“It felt awesome. I felt very comfortable -- a lot more comfortable than I thought I'd feel,” Joyce said. “Just went out and trusted my stuff and threw strikes, and it worked out. It was an amazing feeling.”

Joyce, who was once clocked at 105.5 mph with the University of Tennessee, came out firing. He threw 10 of 12 pitches for strikes, tossing 11 sinkers and one cutter. His sinker maxed out at 102.2 mph and averaged 101.3 mph.

Other than an 89.3 mph cutter, the slowest pitch he threw was a 100.2 mph sinker.

Joyce’s first pitch to Andrew Vaughn, who hit a home run three innings earlier, was a 102 mph sinker for a strike. He painted another sinker, at 100.3 mph, on the outside corner for strike two.

Joyce’s third pitch was a cutter in the same spot, which Vaughn lined to left for a base hit.

Nevin joked: “Loved the first two pitches he threw. Wasn't really excited about the cutter we went to 0-2, but I think we fixed that.”

Indeed. Next up was Gavin Sheets, and Joyce threw four sinkers to record his first career strikeout. They clocked in at 101.8, 100.7, 100.2 and 101.8 mph. Romy González suffered the same fate, facing 101.5, 101.6, 101.2 and 100.6 and striking out.

“It's very firm, and I think the more impressive thing is just how much extension he gets,” Thaiss said of catching Joyce, who’s listed at 6-foot-5, 225 pounds. “He's a big guy. We see him walking around. When he releases the ball, it feels like I could touch him out there. It’s close, so you don't see it for very long, and it's 103 [mph].”

Joyce topped out at 102.2 mph on his last pitch -- a sinker Yasmani Grandal harmlessly flied out to left field on.

He said he was excited to pitch in any moment, and getting some late-game appearances with Rocket City certainly proved beneficial on Monday.

“That helped me kind of calm my nerves there and get recentered and go back to attacking the strike zone,” Joyce said.

Joyce and Chris Devenski covered two scoreless innings, and Carlos Estévez earned the save after allowing one run in the ninth, backing Canning’s quality start. Canning struck out a season-high nine batters and allowed three runs on six hits, including a pair of solo home runs, in six innings.

Joyce’s mom, dad, brother, girlfriend and girlfriend’s family attended Monday’s game. The Angels celebrated him in the clubhouse after the game, and Joyce was awarded the lineup card -- a souvenir he always dreamed of receiving.

A conversation with his mom Monday morning also served as a hard-to-believe reminder. A year ago to the day, Joyce pitched for Tennessee in the SEC Tournament championship game. The Volunteers won, 8-5, though Joyce gave up two runs on a homer.

“Now I'm in the big leagues,” he said. “It's pretty crazy to think about for sure.”