With Dan Johnson back in Durham, the Rays no longer have a clear option to play first base against left-handed pitchers. Joe Maddon and the Rays don’t seem the least bit interested in having Casey Kotchman face left-handed pitchers and have gone to lengthy measures to ensure his exposure is minimal—like starting Felipe Lopez there. Once Reid Brignac returns, Lopez will disappear and the Rays will have to start either Kotchman, Reid Brignac, Sam Fuld, or Matthew Joyce against lefties, lest they go to a six-man bullpen.
It should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyways: Joyce needs to be the one who starts. You have to figure Brignac and Joyce have the highest likelihood to remain on the team past this season, and Joyce fits the profile of someone the Rays may choose to extend. Over limited exposure, Joyce has hit .155/.265/.254 versus southpaws, but as I pointed out during the winter, he is a lock to improve on those numbers.
When facing a situation like this, I think you go with the best hitter. You would be hard pressed to make a case where Brignac, Kotchman, or Fuld is a better hitter. Joyce is the tops, not just this season, but using all the information available. You don’t hit righties as well as Joyce does and tend to hit so horribly versus lefties. I could buy into minimizing his time versus them when there were better options available (like Sean Rodriguez) but that issues is past us. It’s time for Joyce to get his education against lefties. Even if he fails, it’s not like the alternatives are likely to succeed.