TORONTO - Kevin Pillar was in centerfield for a fourth-straight game on Saturday, maximizing an opportunity at consistent playing time by swinging a better bat, hustling on the base paths and playing all out defence.
Pillar's doing his best to refute the old saying that you never get a second chance to make a first impression.
"That's what any young player wants, just a little consistent playing time to make the adjustments, to show you belong at this level, show you can play," said Pillar. "I come to the yard ready to play everyday whether I'm in the lineup or not. I can't remember the last time I played centrefield four days in a row but I'm pretty happy about it and hoping we can start winning some games."
Pillar entered Saturday's action 4-for-12 in three games since his recall from Triple-A Buffalo. On Wednesday night he turned a single through the left side into a double, hustling from the moment he left the batter's box.
On Friday, Pillar made a head-long, diving catch of a Brian McCann shallow flyball to end the fourth inning.
He's making what already was an interesting situation even more complicated. Colby Rasmus did serve as the designated hitter on Friday but otherwise has been relegated to the bench over the four-game stretch. The Blue Jays said Rasmus had a stomach virus in the middle of the week. Obviously, he'd recovered by the time the Yankees arrived in town.
Anthony Gose is expected to be recalled when rosters expand on September 1. That leaves five legitimate outfielders (Jose Bautista, Melky Cabrera, Rasmus, Pillar, Gose) vying for playing time at three spots. Bautista isn't going anywhere. Cabrera isn't going anywhere. So, barring the unforeseen and the odd day off for either Bautista or Cabrera, it appears to be three guys competing for playing time in centrefield.
"Kev's playing good right now," said manager John Gibbons. "Ride him while he's hot, anyway. He's swinging the bat and playing some good defence."
The club has been waiting for Rasmus to get on one of his patented hot streaks, something which hasn't happened for a protracted period of time this season. About to experience his first kick at the free agency can, Rasmus could help himself (monetarily) and the Blue Jays (contributing to wins) by going on a September tear.
The ballclub, however, must be realistic about its postseason chances (slim) and in looking to the future, may use September to determine whether Gose and Pillar could form a platoon in 2015.
"I don't know what we'll do when all those guys get here, you know," said Gibbons.
With five scheduled starts remaining, Mark Buehrle needs to pitch 33 innings to get to 200 for the season.
It's a number particularly important to the 35-year-old, who's won at least 10 games for a 14th consecutive season and is looking to extend his run of throwing 200-plus innings to a 14th-straight year.
"Yeah, it means a lot," said Buehrle. "I mean it's the goal I set every year. Obviously it's going to come to an end sometime, whether it's the result of a bad year or retirement. It's one of those things I still, in my mind, want to get to and if I don't, like I said it's got to come to an end sometime but I'll get home in the offseason and it'll be disappointing if I don't get there."
Manager John Gibbons is eager to help Buehrle achieve the mark. With off-days factored in, Buehrle's last scheduled start is to be the Thursday, September 25 series finale with the Mariners.
"It's important for us, too," said Gibbons. "We'd love to see him get that."
Gibbons won't rule out throwing Buehrle in relief on the final day of the season, against Baltimore, if he's a couple of innings away from getting to 200.
NEW LOOK LINEUP
It's just one move but it had ramifications for six players.
Manager John Gibbons, desperately looking for an offensive spark, moved Munenori Kawasaki into the two-hole usually occupied by Melky Cabrera.
That pushed each of Melky Cabrera (third), Jose Bautista, Adam Lind, Edwin Encarnacion and Dioner Navarro down a spot.
"(Kawasaki) usually gives you a good, tough, battling at-bat," said Gibbons. "He really works the pitchers well. It just kind of lengthens the lineup a little bit. Try something different."
Edwin Encarnacion entered Saturday's action struggling since his return from a six-week absence with strained right quadriceps.
In 12 games, Encarnacion had pieced together a .152/.235/.283 slash line with one home run and seven hits (three doubles).
The Blue Jays were hoping getting Encarnacion and Adam Lind (fractured right foot) back in the lineup would be the cure to what ailed them. During a 7-17 August, that hasn't been the case.
"It's a timing thing," said manager John Gibbons. "I thought when he first came back he was on a lot of pitches, just fouling them off. This time, he's still a little bit out of whack. We need him to be good, let's face it. He needs to just get his at-bats and hopefully he catches fire because when he does he's awful dangerous."