TORONTO – Kevin Pillar’s performance Sunday afternoon led to criticism from his manager and an uncomfortable storyline for a struggling team. Just as quickly, his play the next day pushed many of those questions aside.
Pillar, whose unnecessarily aggressive baserunning earned him a dugout scolding from John Gibbons at Yankee Stadium Sunday, doubled in his first trip to the plate Monday. Moments afterwards, Gibbons turned smiling to the dugout camera and gave a thumbs-up.
“I don’t know what the big deal was anyways,” Gibbons said afterwards. “To be honest with you, you guys get a little rattled up here.”
Two innings later, Pillar drove in Richard Urena with another double, justifying the decision to put him in the lineup instead of benching him as punishment for his ill-advised attempt to steal third base while losing 6-2. Those two doubles helped the Blue Jays hand the visiting Orioles their 88th loss of the season by a 5-3 margin.
As Gibbons noted before the game, benching Pillar wasn’t necessary. A veteran of six big-league seasons, he’s known as an intense competitor who often puts his body on the line for his team. Plus, if the Blue Jays didn’t bench Yangervis Solarte for an apparent lack of hustle at times earlier in the season, would it really make sense to start now?
“Let’s put it this way. It’s hard to criticize Kevin Pillar, the way he goes about his business,” Gibbons explained before the game. “You never worry about effort. He sacrifices everything he’s got … I’ve got zero complaints about Kevin Pillar.”
Afterwards, Pillar said that his contributions felt no different than usual and that Sunday’s events didn’t change his goals for Monday.
He wasn’t the only one contributing at the plate, as Kendrys Morales hit two home runs, his 15th and 16th of the season. He snuck one over the right-field wall in the fourth inning then added a no-doubt, three-run shot the following frame.
Morales was pleasantly surprised to get his first homer on a ball that jammed him enough to break his bat, explaining that “I guess the wind was blowing out.” As for the second home run, he timed Andrew Cashner’s pitch perfectly. “He just threw me a meatball pretty much,” Morales said through interpreter Josue Peley.
Danny Jansen’s offensive success continued, too, as the rookie catcher collected a hit for the sixth consecutive game. He doubled down the left-field line in the fourth inning, one of three balls that left his bat at 90 m.p.h. or more.
“Really, I don’t think it could be any better,” Gibbons said of Jansen’s first week in the majors. “He’s doing everything you could ask (and) the more he plays, the better he’s going to get.”
On the mound, starter Marco Estrada completed 5.1 innings while allowing three earned runs on seven hits. He also struck out four partly because of an effective change-up that generated 10 swings and misses.
“I feel like the last two outings I’ve made a lot of good pitches,” he said. “It’s hard to get away with 86 (m.p.h.) sometimes, but that’s what I’ve got right now. I’m trying to get through it. Danny called a great game.”
Trade rumours continue to surround Estrada, who’s on the radar of contending teams ahead of the Aug. 31 deadline for adding playoff-eligible players. At this point, though, his focus remains in Toronto.
“This is my main concern,” Estrada said. “If that happens, wherever that move is to, then I’ll focus on that, but right now I’m here, I’m a Blue Jay and I’m focused on winning here, plain and simple.”
Ryan Tepera pitched in relief of Estrada, appearing as early as the sixth inning for the first time in 2018. After 1.1 innings from Tepera, Jaime Garcia, Tyler Clippard and Ken Giles combined to shut the Orioles offence down.
Meanwhile, Aaron Sanchez made a rehab start at double-A and while he struck out four over 4.1 innings of work he also walked four and threw more balls than strikes. The Blue Jays must now decide whether to bring him back for Saturday’s game against the Phillies or let him work on his command for another rehab outing while skipping the fifth spot in the rotation.
That’s a potentially difficult decision for the Blue Jays, but at least they can make it knowing that things are back to normal between their centre-fielder and their manager.
“He responded,” Gibbons said with a wink. “Thank God we didn’t bench him.”