It was a meteoric rise for Kevin Pillar last season.
He started the season in Double-A New Hampshire, was promoted to the Buffalo Bisons and made his major league debut with the Toronto Blue Jays - all in just his third season of professional baseball.
But his production tailed off late in the season and he struggled with his numbers after making his debut with the Blue Jays on Aug. 14. The numbers were ugly to start 2014. Over the first 10 days he went just 4-for-42, batting .105.
But the outfielder, who was named the top minor league player in the Toronto Blue Jays organization last year, broke out of his funk on Monday night.
And he was emphatic about it.
Pillar extended his hitting streak to 11 games, drove in four runs on four hits with three runs scored. He helped detonate the Bisons’ offense in a 17-5 win over the Louisville Bats at Coca-Cola Field.
Pillar went 4-four-4, drawing two walks to get on base in all six of his at-bats.
“The biggest thing for me today was just seeing the ball before I committed to swing,” Pillar said. “It’s amazing. It seems like a Little League thing to do but when you’re in the heat of battle. Sometimes you forget that. Especially when you’re in the hole, you’re so worried about getting hits you’re not worried about what pitches you’re swinging at.
“To me, getting two walks is almost as big an accomplishment as getting four hits. I was seeing the ball well today and it was a lot of fun.”
He’s had a great deal of fun recently. Since April 17 he is batting .404 (17 of 42) with five doubles, seven runs batted in, and eight runs scored.
“He’s doing a better job of getting his pitch in hitter’s counts and probably letting the ball travel a little bit longer there and not rushing to get out there,” manager Gary Allenson said. “He’s starting to come around which is good.”
Last season, Pillar set the Bisons modern era record with four doubles in one game.
He finished with 19 doubles in 52 games with the Herd, batting .299 while driving in 27 runs.
He tried to change his game when he moved up to Toronto where he played in 36 games, hitting .206 with 13 runs batted in. He was looking at power numbers. That, he realized, was not his game.
“I tried to be something I wasn’t for a while and it didn’t work,” Pillar said earlier this season. “I got back to using the whole field and being more selective at the plate. Just taking my hits and knowing that the power numbers will come as a product of getting good pitches and squaring the ball up.
“I’m back using the whole field and I’m back to the guy I was of 2012 and early 2013. I’m not worried about power numbers but just trying to be a tough out, be a good hitter, get on base, use the whole field, drive in runs.”
The series concludes tonight (6:05 p.m., Radio 1520 AM) with Marcus Stroman (1-2, 2.18) scheduled to start for the Herd. He will face Jeff Francis (3-2, 2.45).
Before the game, the Blue Jays announced they had optioned infielder Ryan Goins to the Herd. The official corresponding move will be announced today although media reports from Toronto said Chris Getz would be promoted.