TORONTO – It was just five years ago that Kevin Pillar was a rookie attempting to make an impression down the stretch. Now the longest-tenured Blue Jay, Pillar has a different perspective on September call-ups.
"It’s definitely energy," Pillar said. "I think it’s a reminder, too, that I was in their shoes, too. I was a young kid trying to prove myself. I think it’s a friendly reminder that they’re here to take your job and you’ve got to go out there and perform every single day."
Pillar’s playing time has dropped off slightly as Billy McKinney has entered the starting mix along with Pillar, Teoscar Hernandez and Randal Grichuk. September call-ups Dwight Smith Jr. and Jonathan Davis have also joined the Blue Jays this month, and Anthony Alford could arrive later.
There are plenty of outfield options to choose from, but according to manager John Gibbons, Pillar’s past the point of playing for a job.
“He’s got nothing to prove to me," Gibbons said. "He’s been here a few years now, and he’s been a really good player for us”
The 29-year-old’s hitting .248/.276/.412 with 12 home runs and 14 stolen bases in 124 games this year, his first as an arbitration-eligible player. Factoring in his centre field defence, he has been worth 1.7 wins above replacement.
Even as the season winds down, Pillar has no shortage of places to turn for motivation.
"It’s your job," Pillar said. "There’s people that pay money to come watch you play. There’s people that plan their whole day around watching a Blue Jays game. At the end of the day, we’re all replaceable in this room. September’s always a friendly reminder. There’s guys that are motivated like you once were to get their opportunity to go out there."
REDUCED ROLE FOR MARTIN
Of the four catchers on the Blue Jays’ roster, Russell Martin has by far the most experience, but he might be the one who catches the least during the final few weeks of the 2018 season.
"He’s not going to play much," Gibbons said. "It’s a chance to see those other catchers play."
Danny Jansen, Reese McGuire and Luke Maile will get most of the reps behind the plate, and there’s not much opportunity at third base now, either. Martin played third regularly last month, but Lourdes Gurriel Jr. has since returned to the infield mix, pushing Aledmys Diaz to third, and Yangervis Solarte’s expected back within the next few days, too. With an infield that crowded, Martin will often be coming off the bench.
"He understands that," Gibbons said. "He’s good with that."
One infielder who may not return this year is Brandon Drury, who’s recovering from a fractured left hand.
"I don’t know if he’ll play the rest of the year," Gibbons said. "He might sneak in at the end."
HARD CONTACT FOR TELLEZ
It would be unfair to expect Rowdy Tellez to sustain his current level of production. After all, the only other American League rookie since 1936 to hit at least six doubles over a three-game span was Joe DiMaggio.
Still, there are signs that Tellez’s hot start aren’t a complete fluke. Four of those six doubles left his bat going at least 105 m.p.h.