TORONTO – Kevin Pillar joined the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday intent on using the temporary absence of centre-fielder Colby Rasmus as an opportunity to show how much he’s grown since his big-league debut last season.
The 25-year-old outfielder comes up in the midst of a surge during which he’s reached base safely in 26 straight games with the triple-A Buffalo Bisons. Following a slow start, Pillar is batting .305/.344/.461 in 34 games with 13 doubles, three triples and a homer.
How long he gets to show his stuff is unclear as Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said the team is hoping to avoid a trip to the disabled list for Rasmus, who is day-to-day with tightness in his right hamstring. Regardless of how many days he’s up, Pillar is focused on "making it impossible for them to send me down."
"I can’t say I was overwhelmed but I didn’t perform the way I know I can perform, hopefully the second time is a charm," he told reporters following batting practice. "I’m definitely coming in with a different attitude, way more prepared this time, know what to expect, I don’t have those same butterflies that I did six months ago when I came here the first time.
"I feel like I’m here on a business trip and I’m prepared."
The Blue Jays maintained their eight-man bullpen by optioning infielder Jonathan Diaz to make room for Pillar, who will play centre field in Rasmus’ absence.
Pillar struggled during a stint in Toronto last summer, batting .206/.250/.333 in 36 games, and the Blue Jays felt his swing became too long as he became too pull-happy. He has returned to past form since then, with a key moment for Pillar coming during a 17-5 pounding of Louisville on April 28, when he collected an RBI single to each part of the field in his first three at-bats.
"That’s how I feel I’m going to get back and know I’m getting closer to how I was, using the whole field," Pillar told Sportsnet in a recent interview. "Going to right, going up the middle and pulling the ball, that’s ideal for me."
Pillar, a 32nd round pick in 2011, started last season at double-A New Hampshire before reaching the majors. A .493 slugging percentage in 52 games with Buffalo last summer contributed to him getting away from his approach.
"I had so much success when I first came (to Buffalo) last year pulling the ball, I wasn’t intentionally pulling the ball, but that’s how it worked out. And I was hitting some home runs to left field, it got me out of my strengths of using the whole field," explained Pillar. "It definitely carried over up there, especially when I was struggling. Everyone’s default is to try and pull the ball. It’s probably the easier thing to do, and it got me in trouble.
"Being 0-for-17, trying to chase hits, I wasn’t necessarily seeing the ball very well, I was trying to get hits; I was trying to get back to .300 on every swing. That’s not realistic. Coming back down here, maybe in a little bit less stressful environment, and not having success right away, allowed me to get back to my roots of being a tough out and using the whole field."