Joyce’s return gives AquaSox’s rotation big boost

The 24-year-old, who led the Northwest League in strikeouts last season, hadn’t pitched all season due to a forearm strain.

Jimmy Joyce. (AquaSox photo)

Jimmy Joyce. (AquaSox photo)

The Everett AquaSox’s pitching staff received a shot in the arm last week.

Jimmy Joyce, who led the Northwest League in strikeouts last season, returned to the fold during the Sox’s homestand against the Hillsboro Hops, and Everett stands to be the beneficiary as Joyce, who’s coming off an arm injury, gets himself back up to full speed.

“We’ve had some good starters this year, and adding Jimmy to the rotation will give us even more options to get later into games and not have to use our bullpen as early,” Everett manager Ryan Scott said. “Hopefully he’ll be able to get some swings and misses and induce some weak contact.”

Joyce, a 24-year-old right-hander who was selected by the Seattle Mariners in the 16th round of the 2021 draft, made his 2023 debut in Thursday’s 13-12 defeat against the Hops. Joyce started the game and tossed two innings, allowing one run on one hit and three walks while striking out four.

“It was good,” Scott said about Joyce’s outing. “The biggest thing with Jimmy is that it’s just good seeing him back on the mound and competing coming off his injury in spring training. He was anxious to get out here and pitch in front of fans.”

Joyce was the workhorse of Everett’s staff last season. In 23 starts he was 7-11 with a 5.75 ERA, walking 47 and striking out 133 in 112.2 innings. His strikeout total led the league, edging Hillsboro’s Luke Albright by three, and he was second to Albright in innings pitched.

However, Joyce’s start to 2023 was delayed because of a forearm strain that cropped up right at the end of spring training, causing him to miss the first two months of the season. He was rehabbing at Seattle’s complex in Peoria, Arizona, before joining the Sox.

“He’s going to be in the rotation and make a start every five to six days, depending on our off day,” Scott said about the plan with Joyce. “It’s just a progression to build him up right now and continue to get meaningful pitches in. You can do all you want in rehab to prepare, but there’s no better way to get yourself back to full status than throwing in games and throwing some stressful pitches with runners on base. There will be a couple starts where his pitch count won’t be full yet, but he’s going to work his way back.”

Everett ended up going 2-4 in a wild six-game home series against Hillsboro, with several of the games being decided by comebacks in the late innings. The Sox fell below .500 at 25-26 and are in fifth place in the six-team league. However, Everett remains in the hunt for the first-half title as the Sox are just 2.5 games behind first-place Vancouver.

Players of the week

Hitter: Harry Ford. The 20-year-old catcher, who was the Mariners’ first-round pick in the 2021 draft, didn’t have overwhelming overall stats for the week as a whole: .250/.400/.400 triple-slash line with three runs and three RBI in five games. However, he had perhaps the biggest hit of the season thus far when his three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning Saturday polished off a comeback from a six-run deficit and gave the Sox a 9-6 lead. The victory — and its manner — was all the more important considering Everett surrendered ninth-inning leads and lost each of the previous two nights.

Pitcher: Michael Flynn. It was another impressive week for the 26-year-old right-hander, who was signed by the Mariners as a minor-league free agent in the offseason. Flynn allowed just one hit and struck out four in three scoreless innings across two relief appearances, and he did his work in the highest-leverage situations possible. He threw two scoreless frames in extra innings — a feat even more difficult considering a runner started on second in both innings — and picked up the win in Wednesday’s 3-2 victory, then tossed a perfect ninth Saturday for his team-leading fourth save.

The week ahead

Everett has a chance to make up ground in the standings with a six-game home series against league-leading Vancouver, which begins Tuesday at Funko Field. The Sox are 8-4 against the Canadians this season, including taking five of six when the teams met in Everett in April.

Vancouver, an affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays, is 27-23 after splitting a six-game home series against Eugene. The Canadians have been winning mostly behind their pitching and defense. — Vancouver is second in the league in fewest runs allowed per game at 4.68. Left-hander Trenton Wallace (5-2, 1.79 ERA, 11 walks and 47 strikeouts in 40.1 innings) leads the way as he’s been the league’s top starting pitcher.

Offensively, Vancouver is paced by outfielder Garrett Spain (.317, four homers, 17 RBI) and second baseman Michael Turconi (.326, three homers, 15 RBI), both of whom were late arrivals as they didn’t join the team until late April.

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