TORONTO – Soon after Kevin Pillar slid safely into second base Monday night, manager John Gibbons turned to the dugout camera with a smile on his face and gave the thumbs up.
In case any doubt remained that Gibbons was still upset at his centre-fielder’s recent baserunning blunder, that gesture erased it. On Sunday, Pillar attempted to steal third base down four runs at Yankee Stadium, prompting some heated words from Gibbons in the visitors’ dugout.
One day later, Pillar was in the starting lineup batting second.
“Why wouldn’t you have him in there?” Gibbons asked. “The way he plays the game has never been a problem. I don’t know why it’d be smart to punish him.”
Asked whether he considered removing Pillar from Sunday’s game after his mistake, Gibbons reasoned that it wasn’t necessary for Pillar and wouldn’t have been fair to Curtis Granderson, who was on the bench at the time.
“It’s a rainy day,” Gibbons said. “You don’t want to crank up the 38-year-old outfielder either. Now you end up pissing off two guys and one of them’s the most popular guy in the game. No, I don’t think that’s required.”
Pillar’s bold baserunning earned him praise earlier in the season when he stole second, third and home against the Yankees. One key difference? The Blue Jays were ahead in that game, whereas they trailed Sunday.
Still, the Blue Jays appreciate the intensity Pillar brings to the field every day.
“Let’s put it this way. It’s hard to criticize Kevin Pillar, the way he goes about his business,” Gibbons said. “You never worry about effort. He sacrifices everything he’s got … I’ve got zero complaints about Kevin Pillar.”
REINFORCEMENTS ON THE WAY
Aaron Sanchez could make his first big-league start in more than two months against the Philadelphia Phillies this coming weekend. The right-hander started at double-A Monday, setting up a potential return Saturday in place of Sean Reid-Foley, who was optioned to triple-A.
“A lot will depend on how Sanchez does,” Gibbons said. “If he’s good, goes out there and feels fine, throws a pretty good number of pitches, then he should be good to go.”
Sanchez pitched 4.1 innings while allowing four runs (three earned) on six hits with four strikeouts. However, he also walked four on a night he threw more balls (44) than strikes (42).
Because the Blue Jays have an off day Thursday, they also have the option of skipping the fifth spot in the rotation this time around.
As for Reid-Foley, who was optioned to make room for the returning Luke Maile, Gibbons pointed to some positives despite the 13 hits, six walks and nine earned runs that the 22-year-old allowed in his first 9.1 MLB innings.
“I think it’s been a good experience for him,” Gibbons said. “He didn’t necessarily get the results he wanted, but I did see some good things. He’ll be back. He’ll go down to catch his breath and lighten the workload because there was going to come a point in time where we’re watching his innings anyways. He can get himself a breather and then when we expand (rosters) he can come back up.”
Meanwhile, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. could also rejoin the Blue Jays by the weekend if his rehab assignment continues going well. The team has moved him from double-A, where he homered Sunday, to triple-A. If his injured left ankle responds well to that test, the Blue Jays are optimistic he’ll return for the weekend series against the Phillies.
In other injury news, Brandon Drury (fractured left hand) is out of a cast and into a splint with plans for re-examination in a week. A root canal sidelined Devon Travis Monday, but he’s expected back in the lineup Tuesday.