TORONTO - Kevin Pillar doesn't know how long his second shot with the Blue Jays will last but he's here, excited to play and eager to use the opportunity to showcase the strides he's made toward becoming a consistent major league player.
Amongst Toronto's starting outfielders, only Jose Bautista is signed for next season. Colby Rasmus and Melky Cabrera are in the final year of their deals.
"I think guys like myself, guys like Anthony (Gose), know that there's potential for some openings in the outfield coming up," said Pillar. "We're really here to just take care of our business. Any time you get to go out on a big league field it's an audition, not only for your team but all the other 29 teams out there. As guys who play the game we want to play in the major leagues. Ideally we want to play for the Blue Jays, they're the team that drafted me and they're dear to my heart but anytime you step onto the field you know it's an audition for a major league job somewhere."
Pillar joins the club red-hot at the plate. After stumbling out of the gate to a .114 batting average (5-for-44), Pillar has gone 38-for-97 (.392) since, which included an 18-game hitting streak. At the time of his recall, he'd reached base safely in each of Triple-A Buffalo's last 26 games. His nine walks represent an upward trend over his time with the Bisons last year. Pillar has struck out 16 times which, prorated, is a positive trend downward.
"Just getting back, using the whole field and being aggressive in counts, hunting the heater and getting better pitches to hit," said Pillar of his early-season adjustments.
"Kev, in the minor leagues last year, had a tremendous year," said manager John Gibbons. "He came up here, got his feet wet and it was a little bit of a struggle for him last year. Went back down there to Triple-A this year and really got it going again. He's a good baseball player. A real good defender, good baserunner and the guy can hit."
Like Chad Jenkins and Jonathan Diaz (the man whose roster spot he took – Diaz was optioned to Buffalo on Tuesday) the day before, Pillar's travel day began in Charlotte and involved a complicated path to Toronto. He flew from Charlotte to Baltimore, changed planes and flew into Buffalo. After quick stops at his apartment to gather clothes and toiletries and at the Bisons' home, Coca Cola Field, where he transferred his equipment to a bag with a Blue Jays' logo, he picked up the waiting car service for the drive to Toronto.
This time when Pillar arrived in the clubhouse, he knew what to expect. He knew where to go to find what he needed. It's nice to feel comfortable.
"That was a huge difference compared to last time," said Pillar. "Coming in, I walked in on egg shells. I didn't really know anyone here. I was greeted with open arms. At least I knew where my locker was, I knew where things were at this time. It's definitely a different feeling this time."
"He's coming back the second time, you know the shock, now he knows what to expect, said Gibbons. "The awe of the big leagues is kind of out the way now. The first time you show up you don't know what to expect and you're kind of overwhelmed or you can be sometimes."
Pillar started in centerfield in place of Colby Rasmus on Tuesday night. Rasmus is nursing a tight right hamstring, the condition of which Rasmus said was improving.
After Monday night's game, in which Rasmus was removed to start the seventh, Gibbons offered that maybe Rasmus was in need of a stint on the disabled list. Rasmus is hoping to avoid the DL and by Tuesday afternoon Gibbons had changed his tone, sounding hopeful Rasmus would need only a day or two on the bench.
Meanwhile, while he's here, Pillar just wants to relax.
"I don't have those same butterflies that I did six months ago when I came here the first time," said Pillar. "I kind of feel like I'm here on a business trip and I'm prepared."