TORONTO – Minutes after Kevin Pillar played the hero in Monday night's 5-4 Blue Jays walk off win over the Twins, he alluded to a conversation he shared with Jose Bautista earlier in the evening.
The two were in the batting cage moments before game time. Bautista was taking final warm up cuts. Pillar was hitting soft toss. The one-time utility player turned All-Star pulled aside the club's young, fourth outfielder and offered him some advice.
Pillar described it as a discussion about hitting. Bautista told him there was nothing wrong with his swing, that he should remain aggressive in the batter's box in order that the pitcher doesn't get too comfortable. He reminded Pillar that in Pillar's role, he could step to the plate in crucial, late-game situations.
Sure enough, Pillar got the game-winning single to snap a 4-4 tie in the ninth inning. Sure enough, he remained aggressive, perhaps too much so early in the at-bat when Pillar swung at the first two pitches down and out of the strike zone. With the count 1-2, Pillar took a pitch on the outer half to right field, Erik Kratz came around to score and the Blue Jays celebrated.
Pillar thought enough of the conversation to share it with the assembled media postgame. Bautista seemed surprised to be approached on the topic.
"You hope to have an effect on all your teammates, no matter what you talk about or discuss," said Bautista. "Even if it's, hey you're opening up a little bit or having a 10-minute talk about being mentally ready, preparation and mindset and all that. You hope that your teammates listen to you. You don't hope that they do exactly what you say and if you say hop on one foot they start doing it, but if you make a comment that you think is going to help you hope they at least listen. Digest it and if it helps and it works then so be it."
The type of conversation Bautista had with Pillar is rare this season, according to Bautista, because the Blue Jays are laden with veterans. The need doesn't arise as often. This, too, is the second year the group has been together after being arranged in the flurry of high-profile offseason moves made in November and December, 2012.
"I think each person is more knowledgeable of others capabilities, more realistic with the expectations," said Bautista. "I think last year, people didn't know what to expect exactly with other players. Expectations might have been a little unrealistic, sometimes on the higher end and sometimes on the lower end. Sometimes you might have expected more out of somebody and that might have been not right. Sometimes you expected less and the guys surprise you. So now I think everybody is more in tune with each other's capabilities."
DICKEY THROWING MORE FASTBALLS
R.A. Dickey is using his fastball more this season than he did last year.
He's thrown a heater 14.3 per cent of the time in 2014, compared to 11.9 per cent last season. This year's number is more reflective of his 2012 Cy Young award season with the Mets, when 14 per cent of his pitches were fastballs.
"I think it's conscious because I've had a lot of high-pitch games," said Dickey. "I had a 31-pitch first inning against (the Twins on Monday night), I had like a 30-pitch against the Royals, first inning. I need to get back to trying to induce contact earlier in counts so in that regard it has been something that I've consciously tried to do. Especially with teams, Minnesota for instance is a team that leads the league in pitches taken so whenever you have a club like that you want to try to get ahead of guys as much as possible."
Dickey is also conscious of his walk rate, which has skyrocketed this year. He's issued a free pass to 10.2 per cent of hitters he's faced, compared to 7.5 per cent last year and 5.8 per cent in 2012.
In each of his last two starts, he's allowed home runs off his fastball. On June 4 in Detroit, Miguel Cabrera took him deep on a first pitch fastball in the first inning.
On Monday night against the Twins, leadoff hitter Danny Santana hit a home run off a full count fastball.
Dickey had been falling behind in that first inning in Detroit and thought he could sneak a heater by Cabrera.
"That was just a roll of the dice," said Dickey. "I had gone 2-0 with the first two hitters and felt that he would want to get in a hitter's count. I tried to steal a strike the first time through the lineup and his numbers off me, I think he's had like 14 at-bats and two first-pitch swings and so the percentages were in my favour that he was taking and so I tried to play to those and got burned."
Half of the home runs Dickey's allowed this season, five of 10, have been off fastballs. Has he become too predictable, throwing fastballs when in need of a strike?
"I would hope not because I try to do a good job of throwing a lot of 2-0, 3-1, 3-2 knuckleballs," said Dickey. "I'm not in the habit of routinely throwing a fastball in a fastball count but because I don't feature the same velocity as a lot of guys it's a lot easier to put the barrel on the ball if they've seen multiple fastballs in an at-bat; if they're not well located in particular."
JAYS INK TWO MORE PICKS
The Blue Jays locked up their second and fifth round picks from last week's amateur draft.
They are highly-touted right-handed pitcher Sean Reid-Foley (49th overall) out of Sandalwood High School in Jacksonville, Florida and centerfielder Lane Thomas (144th overall) out of Bearden High School in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Both players are 18 years old.