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How Kevin Pillar is swallowing a Giants role that’s getting worse

Kevin Pillar. Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The most seismic change of Kevin Pillar’s professional career already hit, when the lifetime Blue Jay was dealt in early April to the Giants. It was a difficult reality to swallow, but he reported to his new team ready for his next step.

That doesn’t mean the trembling he now feels under his feet is easy.

As the Giants have signaled they will begin giving Tyler Austin more at-bats against right-handers, Pillar is sure to be hit by the domino. They want to see Steven Duggar in center. Mike Yastrzemski, a lefty, should see time against righties. The formerly platooning Austin will play more in left, which is also where Brandon Belt can play as Austin gets the occasional game at first.

There’s an outfield crush for a team not going anywhere and wanting to see new blood, and it’s unclear where the 30-year-old Pillar fits into that vision.

“I showed up [Tuesday] expecting to play because that’s what I do, I play every day,” Pillar told KNBR on Wednesday, a day after the Giants announced their Austin plans. “And [Bruce Bochy] called me in and said he was going to give me a day off. Similar to what he told [reporters], that he wanted to give [Austin] more at-bats against righties, whether that’s going to be in the outfield or whether that’s going to be at first base. That’s to be determined, but it is what it is.”

In their meeting, Pillar said, Bochy said he expected the defensive maven to continue playing often. Pillar, who hits right-handed, was in the lineup Wednesday against San Diego lefty Joey Lucchesi.

Austin “is in the mix more,” Bochy said. “I wouldn’t say quite a rotation. We’ll go with matchups and things like that.”

A sort of Pillar-Yastrzemski platoon is possible, and after Thursday’s off-day, the Giants play 20 straight days, making it easier to mix and match and keep everyone rested. Still, Pillar’s unease extends not only to whether he’s playing but to where he’s playing.

Asked if he’s taken naturally to right field, where he’s been penciled in regularly since May 17, he quickly responded, “No.”

The Giants are affording the 25-year-old Duggar a long look at center, and he hit his fourth homer of the year Tuesday.

“Since 2015, I’ve exclusively been a center fielder,” said Pillar, slashing .225/.255/.362 on the season and struggling of late, 5-for-29 (.172) without a homer in his past eight games. “It has been an adjustment for me out there. Something that I could have fought. Something that I could have made a big deal about. But that was in the initial conversation when I got traded over here, that they have a young guy who is a very capable center fielder.

“I think initially, me coming over to a new environment, new ballpark, they wanted me to be comfortable in a position that I’m comfortable playing. About a month ago they made a decision to switch us. I just continue to go out there and work hard and try to get better as a right fielder every day.”

Pillar, who’s on a $5.8 million deal for this season and had some playoff experience with Toronto, sees even the role he didn’t want begin to get threatened. Asked if he would welcome a deal to a contender seeking defensive help, he said the trade Band-Aid had already been ripped off.

“Ultimately I’m in this game to compete and try to win a championship,” Pillar said. “And if there’s teams that see me as a valuable piece that can help bring a team to the next level and ultimately get a chance to play in October, I would be naive to say that I wouldn’t embrace that. But right now my loyalties are to this team and trying to get us back to where we feel like we should be.

“… Once you’ve been [traded once], you realize you can come on top and thrive in a different environment, different setting.”


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