Pillar, Saunders top leadoff candidates for Blue Jays

Troy Tulowitzki will not be a lead-off hitter for the Toronto Blue Jays. Instead, manager John Gibbons is eyeing Kevin Pillar and Michael Saunders for the coveted hitting spot.

DUNEDIN, Fla. – The Toronto Blue Jays plan to experiment with Kevin Pillar and Michael Saunders at leadoff during spring training after deciding that Troy Tulowitzki is best used hitting fifth behind Edwin Encarnacion.

Manager John Gibbons also said Friday that Russell Martin will leadoff a handful of Grapefruit League games, but that’s strictly to get the catcher extra at-bats without having to catch a full game.

“So don’t get too excited about that,” he said.

As for finding someone to replace Ben Revere atop the batting order, Pillar and Saunders emerged as the most obvious current candidates with the Blue Jays intent on leaving Josh Donaldson in the two-hole, followed by Jose Bautista, Encarnacion and Tulowitzki.

Pillar slashed .278/.314/.399 and scored 76 runs predominantly batting eighth last season, while Saunders, returning from a knee injury that limited him to nine games last year, posted a career-high .341 on-base percentage in 78 games with the Seattle Mariners in 2014.

“Those are the two that really jump out at me,” said Gibbons.

Tulowitzki led off 26 times last season following his July acquisition before Revere was moved up to the top spot for 33 games.

“You know what? After getting to know him a little bit, I like the way it looks down there [with Tulowitzki] hitting after Eddie,” said Gibbons. “He’s always been an RBI guy. He was fine with ([eadoff] last year, he did a good job with it, but that leadoff hitter is only one time a game maybe, anyway. Keep [Tulowitzki] down there backing up Eddie a little bit, and we get him hot, doing his norm, we’re that much stronger down there.”

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