Angels turn up bullpen heat with reliever Ben Joyce

Saul Young/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK
Known for his triple-digit velocity, the former Double-A reliever joined the Angels on Sunday after Matt Moore was placed on the IL with an oblique strain.

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Less than a year after he was drafted by the Angels out of college, right-handed reliever Ben Joyce got the call inviting him to the major league show.

“It means everything. It’s what I’ve been working for since I was three years old, playing baseball, dreaming of making it to the big leagues,” said Joyce. “It’s all the hard work that you put in, and it’s paying off. It’s awesome to be here.”

Joyce, 22, will step in to replace Matt Moore, who was diagnosed with a Grade 2 oblique strain on his right side and placed on the 15-day IL. Moore said he first felt the injury on Friday after warming up in the bullpen, and an MRI confirmed the diagnosis. 

Manager Phil Nevin said before Sunday’s game against the Miami Marlins that Moore will not be traveling with the team to Chicago and will instead stay in Anaheim to receive treatment. Before this injury, Moore was a dominant force in the bullpen, posting a 1.44 ERA with 21 strikeouts over 25 innings pitched. 

“He at least won’t be throwing until we get back. Hopefully it’s something that heals quickly,” said Nevin.

In the meantime, the Angels bullpen will look to Joyce to fill the gap and bring some power into late innings. Joyce’s reputation has been marked by his ability to land pitches with high velocities. 

“He’s got the kind of stuff to get big outs,” said Nevin.

Ranked as the Angels No. 9 prospect by MLB pipeline, Joyce is the second player from the 2022 draft to reach the major leagues following former Trash Pandas teammate, Zach Neto, who was brought up in April. He’ll join the current bullpen crew including fellow newbie Sam Bachman, who made his MLB debut on May 26.

In his collegiate career at the University of Tennessee, Joyce turned heads with his velocity, which has remained steady throughout his career, even after he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2020. In his last year of college, he clocked 105.5 mph with a fastball — the fastest recorded pitch in college history. This wasn’t the only time he recorded a triple-digit velocity in college, as his fastball and slider clocked over 100 mph multiple times as well. 

He threw his last pitch with the Tennessee Volunteers on June 10 before joining the Angels Double-A team less than two months later, and despite the change in routine — moving from 4-6 days of rest to only a few days of rest in between outings — his velocity remained in the high 90s throughout the transition.

In 14 Rocket City outings, Joyce posted a 4.60 ERA across 15.2 innings with 24 strikeouts. In his last three outings, he threw five scoreless innings with seven strikeouts and one walk.

“His last three outings have been really good, efficient innings,” said Nevin. “He’s commanding where we wanted him to be. There are some things that we felt like he needed to work on. He’s still developing here.”

In the Southern League, he’s continued to log high velocities using the “enhanced grip” baseball, but he said he’s also been throwing side sessions with the official MLB ball to get a feel for how each ball affects his pitches. Before Sunday’s game, he said he’s happy with the progress he’s made using both balls in the pen.

“The new ball was definitely an adjustment but getting to use both baseballs and going back and forth and getting a feel for both pitches was good,” said Joyce. “Even developing pitches and just being able to deal with whatever ball they give us, I think that helped my command as I started to throw more in Double-A. I think it prepared me to come up and use the big league ball again.”

Going into his first major league season, Joyce said part of what’s been working for him in Double-A has been the addition of a cutter as a middle ground between his fastball and sweeper, and it’s something he’s excited to use in the big leagues. 

“I think the fastball up in the zone is really working well. I was able to get that by hitters and that new cutter I learned this offseason was a big addition to the arsenal,” Joyce said. “I had that big velo difference from the fastball to the sweeper, so adding something in between was awesome.” 

Nevin said that if he needed to, Joyce can pitch more than one inning, as can other players in the bullpen.

“I could see that happening, and certainly, we have a few guys who can do that. Chase has done it obviously. Joyce has done it and Bachman has done it,” he said. “I think all of them are capable of doing it.”

After getting the call late Friday night, Joyce said he immediately called his parents, arranged flights and flew to Anaheim to make it to the Big A in time for the team’s series finale against the Marlins. 

“It was the craziest feeling I’ve ever had in my life. I was crying and shaking and then all the emotions,” he said. He was joined by his mom, dad, brother and girlfriend watching from the stands on Sunday afternoon. 

“We were down in Double-A a few weeks ago and they were saying that if you can put together some good weeks and good outings, they’re going to move you up quick and they’re true to that,” said Joyce. “It’s a great opportunity. It makes you feel blessed and it gives you a lot of confidence to know that they trust you enough to call you up and let you pitch on the big league stage.”